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Parents feeding children oversized portions linked to toddler obesity

Most parents are feeding their children too much food, putting them at risk of obesity, according to leading child health experts.

The Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) surveyed 1,000 UK parents and found that 79% of them routinely offered portions larger than the recommended size.

Furthermore, more than 10% of parents were serving their child close to an adult size potion, when serving popular dishes like spaghetti bolognaise or cheese sandwiches.

The research also highlighted the emotional complexities of feeding toddlers with 73% more concerned that their child does not eat enough.

This was twice the proportion of parents who believe their children eat too much, while only 25% of parents worry that their child might become overweight.

Recent research in the journal Nature has linked larger portion sizes to excess weight gain in children and the ITF has released visual guidance for correct portion sizes.

Judy More, a paediatric dietitian and ITF member, said: “Practical advice on appropriate portion sizes for toddlers has been lacking, so it's not surprising our survey revealed a significant lack of understanding about how much to feed toddlers.”

She added: “Our advice provides portion size ranges rather than specific amounts, to address the fluctuating appetites of growing children and helps to achieve the correct nutritional balance and calories needed for healthy growth and development.

Gill Harris, a child and clinical psychologist, said: “As health and child care professionals, it's never too early to start promoting healthy eating habits.

“Most toddlers are naturally better than older children and adults at regulating their food intake. They usually only eat what they need and don't overeat.

“However, portion size is critical. It's one of the main ways in which, as parents, we can inadvertently override children's self-regulation systems.

“Larger portions form our acceptance about what is an appropriate amount to eat and this becomes the 'norm'. In other words, how much you offer often determines how much your child will eat and habits learned in early life generally tend to persist.”

In response to the survey, the ITF is launching a #rethinktoddlerportionsizes campaign, which aims to encourage families to follow portion sizes more closely.