February 28, 2019
More than one-quarter (27%) of toddlers do not eat a single serving of vegetables a day, according to the latest findings from the Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS).
Among the young children who do, French fries are the number-one vegetable consumed, based on the research results—which has been published in a series of eight papers by the Journal of Nutrition, a publication of the American Society for Nutrition.
The study—which was launched in 2002 by the baby food brand Gerber and now is conducted by the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland—involved interviews with nearly 10,000 parents and caregivers of infants, toddlers and preschools nationwide in the United States.
The researchers found that food choices tend to change and more nutrient gaps appear after a child’s first birthday, when most begin eating more family foods. By age two, many children have established taste preferences and eating habits that will last a lifetime, which is why pediatricians and public health experts urge parents to help their children set healthy eating behaviors early.
Other new FITS findings reveal that troubling nutrient shortfalls start early and many young children consume sweets and excess sodium:
- Iron: The percentage of infants between the ages of six months old and one year old who do not consume the recommended amount of iron increased from 7.5% in 2002 to 18% in 2016. Iron is a critical nutrient to support learning ability and brain development. Beef and iron-fortified cereals are excellent sources of iron.
- Vitamin D: Fewer than 25% of infants get the recommended amount of vitamin D, which the body needs for strong bones and teeth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily vitamin D supplement for infants who are exclusively breastfed or receive less than a liter of infant formula per day. Similarly, about 80% of one- to three-year-old childen fall short on vitamin D. Milk and yogurt are good food sources of vitamin D.
- Fiber: Fewer than 10% of children between the ages of 12 months and 48 months get adequate amounts of dietary fiber. Fiber is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lentils and beans.
- Sodium: Fully 40% of 1-year-olds and 70% to 75% of two- to three-year-olds exceed the upper limit for sodium. Processed meats such as hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage, and bacon are leading sources of sodium among young children. These foods also contribute saturated fat to their diets.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: About 10% of infants (between six months and one year old), 30% of one-year-olds, and 45% two- to three-year-olds drink sugar-sweetened beverages on a given day, with fruit flavored drinks being the most common.
“Good nutrition during a child’s early years is particularly critical because it sets the stage for healthy eating throughout life,” said Wendy Johnson, VP of, Nutrition, Health and Wellness for Nestlé USA, in a company release. “Exposing young children to a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and a variety of foods and flavors, is important as children are forming their tastes and eating habits for life.”
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