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Babies Not Meeting Infant Feeding Guidelines May Be At Greater Risk For Childhood Obesity

New research reveals that a significant number of babies are not being fed in accordance with New Zealand’s infant feeding guidelines and this puts them at greater risk for childhood obesity.

The research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, looked at adherence to New Zealand’s infant feeding guidelines in the first year of life for children in this country’s largest longitudinal study of child development, Growing Up in New Zealand.

The study found one in four babies were fed in line with the current Ministry of Health guidelines, which cover feeding practices such as duration of breastfeeding; age at which babies start solid food; fruit and vegetable intake; addition of salt and sugar to food; eating iron rich food; and consumption of inappropriate drinks.

The study found that very low adherence to infant feeding guidelines was subsequently associated with childhood obesity at four-and-a-half years old.

Professor of Nutrition at the University of Auckland, Clare Wall, says this is the first New Zealand study to explore a connection between infant feeding guidelines and childhood overweight or obesity.

“Parents and caregivers are constantly challenged with food environments that are not conducive to healthy eating. It is worrying to see this association between low adherence to infant feeding guidelines in the first year of life and childhood overweight and obesity in the pre-school years,” she says.

“This research highlights the value of these guidelines in offering some protection against childhood obesity which is a really important finding.

"It suggests the need to more actively support, and potentially intervene, to help families access healthy food and follow recommended infant feeding practices in an effort to reduce our growing childhood obesity rates,” Professor Wall says.

Lead researcher, University of Auckland Senior Research Fellow, Dr Teresa Gontijo de Castro says although a quarter of babies met 10 out of the 12 guidelines, only 2% of babies met all the infant feeding guidelines, while around 15% met fewer than half of the recommendations.

Dr Teresa Gontijo de Castro

She says the third of children with the lowest adherence to infant feeding guidelines were the most at risk for childhood obesity at four-and-a-half.

The study found these children were around 50% more likely to be overweight or obese as pre-schoolers. There were some differences in risk for boys and girls.

“Dietary practices in early life represent a unique opportunity to tackle not only childhood overweight and obesity, but the subsequent diet-related diseases can present in adulthood,” Dr Gontijo de Castro says.

Professor Wall says this research can inform the new Eating and Activity Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers to support families, parents and caregivers to adopt optimal feeding practices for infants.

“This research also highlights the need for interventions which recognise and respond to maternal education, deprivation levels, and that are culturally appropriate in order to support families to adopt as many of the recommended infant feeding practices as possible” she says.

You can read the full paper here: An index measuring adherence to New Zealand infant feeding guidelines has convergent validity with maternal sociodemographic and health behaviours and with children`s body size.

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