fussytoddlerFood choices from a young age can have a key impact on lifelong health, according to a leading dietitian

Kathy Cowbrough told delegates at JFHC Live 2013 how eating habits in the womb. can influence a child's cardiovascular health and risk of obesity in later life.

"Before birth the foetus experiences eating through the mother," she said. "If the mother breastfeeds that exposes them to the maternal diet so we need to be aware of what mothers are eating.

"Early flavour learning is vital and it means the mother has to have a good diet. Breastfeeding also promotes vitamins, bonding and immunity is passed on by the breastmilk."

The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months but, even though the Department of Health supports this, only 1% of mothers do this in the UK.

Cowbrough continued: "We then have dilemmas around complementary foods. After 6 months they’re to have small amounts of food. Previously the recommendation was 4 months. EFSA says it’s safe to introduce food between 4-6 months. So there’s a mixed message.

"What we do know when you’re encouraging parents they need to introduce a variety of different foods and moving them on to lumpy foods. With weaning you want sensory participation with different flavours. Parents should let toddlers mess around with different foods at this early stage.

Parents continue to have a big influence on what children eat up to the age of three but Cowborough suggests that  after 12 months, there’s far less guidance than during weaning.

"We need to be more concerned about the eating habits of pre-schoolers," she said. "This is a time of rapid growth where they have high nutrient requirements for their size. So failing to meet their requirements for healthy development and high energy increases the risk of obesity, and thus the potential for diseases in later life."

Food preferences change between children and Cowborough believes that role models are very important.

"If good habits are established early this will increase healthy adult eating habits," explained the public health nutritionist. "When families sit and eat it’s a security. If children are out and about they pick up fast food, but this may not be the best food to eat. That often continues in later life.

"Love also has a strong association with food. Grandparents love to give sweets to show love and the child knows they can get if they show love.

"But if children are demanding something and they’re given something to eat to shut them up then the child will use this as a weapon in the future. They can get attention by refusing to do something and get the food they like."

Cowborough concluded by highlighting the importance of families sitting together for meals and trying to "make food fun" by letting kids prepare food and linking songs and stories with food. For more advice visit www.chew.org.uk

Our JFHC Live 2013 minisite contains all the highlights from the event; visit www.jfhc.co.uk/jfhc_live_2013.aspx to see videos, presentations, podcasts and more.

Posted 28/03/2013 by richard.hook@pavpub.com