WASHINGTON – The path to adult obesity starts before most children can even talk,according to a new study.
It found that nearly one quarter of toddlers 15 to 24 months old eat no vegetables on an average day,and that when they did,it was likely to be french fries.
The study was released Monday at a conference attended by doctors,nurses and other medical professionals and sponsored by Shape up America! and Gerber Products Co.,the baby food company.
The study,intended to provide guidance to Congress and raise awareness about childhood obesity,centered on data about the dramatic increase in the nation's weight over the last 20 years.
“We couldn't sit on the sidelines on addressing childhood obesity,” said Frank Palantoni,Gerber’s CEO. “We need to be a part of the solution.”
The survey,”Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study,” had some good news. America's infants and toddlers are meeting their vitamin and mineral requirements. However,many are showing signs of adults’ unhealthy eating habits.
The 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 15 percent of children ages 6 to 19 were overweight. Because the FITS survey is one of the first to address infant and toddler obesity,there are no obesity numbers for children under 6 years old.
But the FITS sponsors are convinced they must study toddlers to prevent adult obesity.
Barbara J. Moore,president and CEO of Shape up America!,said “the word epidemic doesn't do this justice,” and that the country needs to discover why children were so lean in the 1930s and so overweight today.
Shape up America! is a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to raise awareness about obesity as a health issue and to provide information on healthy weight management.
Shape up America! promoted a healthy diet to those attending the daylong conference by offering juice,tea,fresh fruit and granola bars as snacks,followed by a healthy lunch. The presentations were also split up with exercise breaks. The Sergeant's Program,a boot camp exercise organization,provided stretching breaks to the approximately 100 people at the conference.
Moore said the conference was held to provide information to the Institute of Medicine,part of the National Academy of Sciences,for a childhood obesity prevention plan it will present to Congress next year.
She said the most important information,including the FITS survey,would also be published in January as a supplement to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
“This conference has a prevention theme,” said Moore. “The goal is to examine the modifiable factors.”
Key findings from the FITS survey are that “on any given day,25 to 30 percent of infants and toddlers aged 9 to 24 months do not eat any fruit,and that 20 to 25 percent do not eat vegetables.”
Toddlers typically consumed 20 to 30 percent more energy than they needed.
The study also showed that “high calorie,low nutrient foods are entering the diets of children at early ages and by 19 to 24 months many children are consuming such foods.”
On the day the survey of toddlers’ parents was conducted,researchers found that 44 percent of the children had consumed sweetened beverages other than fruit juice; 26 percent had consumed french fries; 69 percent consumed candy or dessert; 27 percent consumed hotdogs,bacon or sausage; and 27 percent had consumed salty snacks.
The study examined the eating habits and nutrient intake of more than 3,000 children from 4 months to 24 months old. There had not been a large-scale dietary intake study for the under-2 age group. The survey had a margin of error of 4 percent.
Moore said preventive measures for obesity are key in a society in which there is a “perception that obesity is a benign condition.” She said society has come to accept that “you can't be too skinny as a woman,and you can't be too fat as a baby.”
Kathleen Reidy,Gerber’s director of nutritional sciences,said obesity comes from prenatal habits and a lack of knowledge about how to switch from breast-feeding or bottles to solid food.
“I think there is a lack of information there,” Reidy said. “Parents need more information on how to transition onto table foods. There is plenty of room for guidance.”