Researcher Dr Karen Webb said the 16 to 24 month old children consumed on average 10 per cent more kilojoules than their estimated energy requirement. She said small, ongoing excesses in energy intake could lead to overweight or obesity in the long-term.
‘Our study provides preliminary data on the eating habits of young children. The results could be used to help develop dietary guidance for young children, and to help plan early intervention to prevent childhood obesity,’ said Dr Webb.
Dr Webb and colleagues surveyed the diets of 429 Australian toddlers and compared their energy and nutrient intakes to Australian nutrient reference values. The study is the first to look at the dietary intake of very young Australian children.
The toddlers’ diets were generally adequate, with at least 90 per cent meeting their estimated average requirement for the majority of vitamins and minerals. But intakes of iron, dietary fibre and vitamin C were low in comparison with reference standards, while sodium intakes were too high.
‘These young children are still drinking a relatively large amount of milk in this transitional diet phase and this mixed milk and solid food diet generally provides all the nutrients needed for this age. But the variety of solid foods consumed was rather narrow and not always the healthiest,’ said Dr Webb.
She recommended parents encourage variety by offering children wholegrain breads and cereals, lean meat and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Claire Hewat, Executive Director of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), said early childhood was a critical time for growth, development and establishing lifelong eating habits.
But she said Australia lacked an official dietary selection guide for very young children.
‘As part of DAAs comprehensive obesity strategy, we are calling on the government to develop national nutrition guidelines for children below five years. And these need to be applied to early childhood services, such as pre-schools and day care centres,’ said Ms Hewat.
Alina Boey | alfa
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