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Avoid childhood obesity with early years feeding

Experts at a British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) conference have revealed new scientific evidence on the relationship between early years feeding and childhood obesity.

Dr Lucy Chambers, Nutrition Scientist at the BNF, said: “While the determining factors of childhood obesity are complex, what, when and how parents complementary feed (weaning) their infants can contribute to the development of childhood obesity.”

The World Health Organization and the Department of Health recommend that complementary foods should be introduced from around six months of age. However, national surveys reveal that many parents introduce solid foods to their infants before this.  

Chambers said: “Surveys show that around a quarter of parents wean their babies between three and four months. This may be because parents believe that foods other than milk will help their infants to feel satiated and sleep well.”

However, research conducted at the University of Nottingham and presented at the conference  suggests this may increase the risk of childhood obesity.

From the age of six months infants who are encouraged to feed themselves may regulate their own appetite better in later life, compared with predominantly spoon-fed babies, Dr Michelle Lee from Swansea University revealed.

Lee explained: “Parents should be encouraged to include this type of responsive feeding as they introduce complementary foods, to assist their children to instinctively regulate their own appetite. This is a really important step in encouraging children to develop healthy eating patterns for life.”

Before a child is two years old exposing them to a range of vegetables will increase their vegetable acceptance and intake during childhood, delegates at the conference also learnt.

Professor Marion Hetherington, Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, who carried out this research said: “Age is key when introducing new tastes - the complementary feeding stage is the beginning of a child's 'taste journey' in which educating the palate with a variety of different foods will influence later eating habits.”