Britain's obesity crisis could be starting as early as birth, experts suggest

Are babies being overfed from birth? [Photo: Getty]
Are babies being overfed from birth? [Photo: Getty]

Britain’s obesity crisis could be starting as early as birth, according to experts who believe that as many as three quarters of babies are being fed too much.

The same proportion of infants also weighed more than the ideal weight for their age, when plotted on growth charts.

According to data gathered in 2010 and 2011 from Infant Feeding Survey and the Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children, 75% of children aged between four months and 18 months exceeded the ideal weight for their age, as determined by the World Health Organisation’s growth chart.

Now the Government has released guidance for the first time since 1994 to help parents know what to feed their babies.

The hope is that the updated guidelines, issued yesterday by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), will help reduce obesity levels.

How should parents feed their children?

SNAC recommends that children under the age of one should drink only breast milk, infant formula or water, and that parents should avoid high-sugar or high-salt foods.

They also advise babies are introduced to solid foods at around six months old and should not be given cows milk until their first birthday because studies have shown babies who drink it have lower iron levels.

The body also advises that foods containing peanut and hen’s egg can be introduced from around 6 months of age and need not be differentiated from other solid foods.

This is because the exclusion of peanut or hen’s egg beyond 6 to 12 months of age may actually increase the risk of allergy.

“SACN raises concerns about the proportion of infants with energy intakes above requirements and the proportion exceeding growth standards for their weight – around three-quarters of infants for both,” the report reads.

Therefore the body “recommends consideration is given to monitoring the prevalence of overweight and overfeeding in infants, and ways to address high energy intakes in this age group.”

New guidelines have revealed three quarters of babies and toddlers are being overfed [Photo: Getty]
New guidelines have revealed three quarters of babies and toddlers are being overfed [Photo: Getty]

Commenting on the findings Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England (PHE) said:

“The SACN report reinforces existing advice on infant feeding in relation to breastfeeding and the introduction of solid foods. In new advice, it provides clear guidance on the introduction of allergenic foods.”

“SACN’s robust advice puts to bed any arguments about a beneficial effect of early introduction of solid foods,” she adds.

Professor Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, told the BBC that following the new guidelines, would help avoid infants becoming “too heavy”.

“Further consideration is needed on ways to monitor overfeeding and overweight prevalence in infants, to help give them the best start in life,” he said.

Tackling the obesity crisis

The new guidelines are issued as it was revealed earlier this year that one in 25 children in England aged 10 or 11 are severely obese.

Measurements on children’s weight and height show the number of children classed as ‘severely overweight’ rose from 15,000 in reception to 22,000 by their final year of primary school.

The data was collected as part of Public Health England figures, and was analysed by The Local Government Association (LGA).

Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “These new figures on severely obese children, who are in the most critical overweight category, are a further worrying wake-up call for urgent joined-up action.”

She said that unless the problem is tackled “today’s obese children will become tomorrow’s obese adults”.

The tackling of obesity has been an ongoing campaign of late. Back in January, Public Health England also encouraged parents to count the calories in their child’s snacks.

Each year, children consume almost 400 biscuits, more than 120 cakes, 100 sweets, 70 chocolate bars and 70 ice creams, washed down with more than 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.

Because of the alarming figures, the health body called on parents to be tougher on their kids snacking of sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks between meals.

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