Researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences studied the diets of babies at six months and 12 months and found that they are usually dependent on the racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds of their mothers.“We found that differences in dietary habits start very early,” says Xiaozhong Wen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UB Department of Pediatrics and lead author on the paper. “Dietary patterns are harder to change later if you ignore the first year, a critical period for the development of taste preferences and the establishment of eating habits,” added Wen.
For their study, the researchers reviewed data on over 1,500 infants in an FDA clinical trial on food consumption conducted from 2005 to 2007. The data included reports by mothers of eighteen different food types consumed by their 6 month and 12 month old babies in a particular week. Among their findings:
- Babies whose diet included more breastfeeding and solid foods that match guidelines from doctor and baby organizations were more likely to live in households with annual income above $60,000 per year and where mothers had gone to college or graduate school.
- Babies who ate high levels of sugar, fat, protein, dairy products and cereal were likely to have mothers with lower household incomes, were non Hispanic African Americans and whose education level generally ended at high school. Those babies were also likely to have the highest body mass index (BMI) levels in the study.
- Babies who were fed large amounts of infant formula were likely to be enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition program run by the Women and Infant Children (WIC) program. WIC provides some of the cost for formula purchases.
- Despite their young age, routine foods for some of the babies in the study included French fries, ice cream, sugary sodas and candy.
“There is substantial research to suggest that if you consistently offer foods with a particular taste to infants, they will show a preference for these foods later in life,” says Wen. “So if you tend to offer healthy foods, even those with a somewhat bitter taste to infants, such as pureed vegetables, they will develop a liking for them. But if you always offer sweet or fatty foods, infants will develop a stronger preference for them or even an addiction to them. Added Wen, “this is both an opportunity and a challenge…we have an opportunity to start making dietary changes at the very beginning of life.”
The study was published in Pediatrics.