Healthy eating habits can begin in first year of life

·2-min read

It's never too early to get your child eating healthily, according to a new scientific study.

Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Brazil's Universidade Federal de Ciencias da Saude de Porto Alegre found that promoting healthy habits to mothers-to-be had an impact on toddlers' weight and diet.

They found that those who were taught to avoid sugary and processed foods when they began weaning off breastmilk, usually at six months old, had kids who consumed fewer fats and carbohydrates at three years of age and had lower measures of body fat at the age of six.

Explaining the implications of the study, co-senior author Dr. L.H. Lumey said: "Many individuals including Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver, and Michelle Obama have devoted efforts to improve school lunches and eating habits of school age children to aid in the fight against obesity.

"All these efforts are to be applauded and encouraged. What this study suggests is that we might have to think even earlier. Feeding practices early in life can already have a significant impact on the body size of pre-school children."

The study's first author, Caroline N. Sangalli, added: "The message worldwide is that to avoid obesity later in life you cannot start too early to help mothers feed their children well. And this study is proof of principle that it is possible to change a mother's behaviour."

The scientists studied a control group and intervention group - with the latter being given dietary advice from Brazilian health workers. They found that without intervention many mothers naturally gave young children processed, high energy foods.

The findings showed that at three years of age, children from the intervention group had lower consumption of carbohydrates and total fat than their peers, and at six, they had a smaller waist circumference and thinner skin folds.

Experts advise mothers to avoid sugar, sweets, soft drinks, salty snacks, cookies and ultra-processed foods, including some baby foods, until at least two years of age.

The findings were published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

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