How the first 1000 days of meals can change your child’s life


Health Sciences

A Snapshot of What Our Infants Eat Contains Clues About How Aotearoa’s Children Became The Second Most Obese In The World, And What We May Do About It

When UNICEF ranked New Zealand second in childhood obesity among 41 OECD and EU countries in its report The State of the World’s Children 2019, New Zealand researchers were not surprised.

The trend has been apparent since 1990 with the increase in the number of overweight children climbing 44.6 percent in 30 years. The report found that nearly 40 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of five and 19 were overweight. Only the United States has a worse record. This means that our children are more likely to be overweight than Australian and British children.

When it comes to adult obesity, New Zealand ranks third behind Mexico, but our children are now bigger than Mexican children. Without serious action, the World Health Organization estimates that by 2025 there will be 70 million overweight or obese infants and young children in the world. As they grow older, they face higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, degenerative joint disease, and some cancers. Poor population health trends can be expressed as data points, but the personal burden on the health, well-being and future lives of these children and their families will have its own impact.

Professor Clare Wall of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland heads the Department of Nutrition. Her own research has focused on infant nutrition and how this nutrition affects their health as children and as they age, and she is one of the authors of a key book. If our children are facing an obesity epidemic, it makes sense to go back to the first 1000 days of life and find out what they are eating. Patterns of food choices, food type and food culture are formed early on, and how infants eat and what they like to eat provide important information about the diet and habits that lead to obesity.

Wall says, “We know this is a really essential window to getting it right for so many stages of development and we know that nutrition is essential. “

Leading the way in the first thousand days of a child’s life doesn’t just prevent obesity, it helps guide children to develop their potential. About 80 percent of the brain is developed by the age of two.

Wall says, “The growth of the brain is phenomenal. They sort of grow in their heads. So, if the brain is not getting the right nutrients, especially iron and zinc at this stage, development will be affected. It is also not reversible. It might be too late at five years to rectify that. “

New Zealand had a infant feeding guidelines since 2008, outlining how parents and caregivers should feed healthy infants and toddlers. They range from recommending exclusive breastfeeding until around six months of age, to offering toddlers foods from each of the four main food groups (fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, milk, lean meat, legumes, nuts and seeds) and limiting high sugar levels. and the salt in food when changing from a milk-based diet to solid foods.

But before key research by Wall and colleagues at the University of Auckland, no one really knew what our infants were eating. Their work, commissioned by the Department of Social Development, has been published under the title Infant feeding in New Zealand. The data comes from Growing up in New Zealand GUINZ Study, hosted by the University of Auckland. This cohort study followed 6,432 children from birth. These children are now 10 years old and the study produced a wealth of data and insight into the lives of our children. For this study, Clare and the team combed through questionnaire responses and dates collected when the cohort of children was nine months old.

What do parents and caregivers actually feed their infants? And how does that compare to the “ideal” guidelines from the Department of Health? The good news is that, on average, these infants are doing well. About 94 percent eat three or more solid meals a day by nine months, and over 80 percent of infant meals contain no added sugar or salt.

The less good news is that almost half of the nine-month-olds had tried candy, chocolate, hot chips and potato chips, and only about a third ate vegetables or fruit twice or more per day. , as recommended.

To establish a baseline for measuring the performance of New Zealand infants nationally, the team designed an Infant Feeding Index (IFI), a summary of metrics and key milestones of the guidelines on infant feeding. infant feeding to allow tracking of the complex range of dietary variables as infants get older. and achieved their development milestones. They ended up with an IFI that gives a score of 100 if the feeding guidelines are fully followed.

When evaluated against the new Infant Feeding Index, the mean score for children’s diet was 70 out of a score of 100. Only 1.5 percent of infants achieved the “ideal” score of. 100, but almost a third of the cohort scored 80 points. or more, which Wall says is a promising result.

The main concern she has is the relatively low score for the important factor of breastfeeding exclusively until about six months and continuing to breastfeed with other foods for up to a year and beyond. Only 15.8 percent of infants met this goal, so New Zealand is highly unlikely to meet the WHO global breastfeeding target of having 50 percent of all infants exclusively breastfed. until the age of six months. If this is done, the evidence is clear that these infants would live longer and healthier lives.

Wall says parents and caregivers are doing their best, although they often end up facing headwinds of socio-economic pressure. “The diet of infants has changed in the same way as the diet of adults,” she says. “More processed foods, more salt, more sugar and more fat.”

As the infant grows, it becomes a natural part of the family and its family’s food environment. “There is less time and therefore it becomes more difficult to prepare separate meals for infants,” she says, with infants often eating the same food as adults.

“Your food preferences and behavior begin in early childhood. Often times, if a child has done well they are given a candy, then we associate lollipops with being good. The foods we crave are those that influence our enjoyment, ”Wall explains. If you happen to be raised in a family with limited access to healthy foods, it makes it all the more difficult to change your eating habits as an adult. “Unfortunately, we have overweight children who will grow into obese adults. “

While diet is important, the way we eat is just as influential. If a household has daily rituals such as having breakfast at home, eating together as a family, and not watching TV or screens during meals, they are much more likely to follow a healthy diet.

But it is often more of an aspiration than reality. The young contemporary Auckland family lives their lives in a blur of work, daycare, journeys to hell, drop-off and pick-up. Convenience, in all spheres of life, including the kitchen, is becoming highly desirable. Contemporary cooks may not realize how much processed their food is compared to their parents’ generation.

Wall says, “I think we are now experiencing all this change in terms of food. It’s not just about what people eat and the amount of nutrients they consume, but also the types of food formats we consume and their elimination from the foods and diets we had. habit of eating.

“Eating a chicken nugget is not the same as sitting down to eating a roast chicken for dinner. Our meals are eaten faster and for this to be possible many foods lack texture so they are easy to eat on the go.

For example, a homemade burger will contain vegetables, cucumber, and tomato, and the buns will likely be whole grain. The experience will be very different from a fast food chain product. “There’s going to be a lot more chewing in the homemade burger.”

As food becomes more processed, it is not only faster to eat, but also easier to consume larger amounts of it. “We fear that our children from an early age are consuming too much because it is so easy to eat. “

To take a closer look at not only infant feeding but also the impact of how infants eat, Wall and his former colleague and engineering professor Bryony James studied the potential impacts of an upward trend. prepared foods for infants: mashed foods in plastic pouches. According to New York Times, these account for a quarter of all baby food sales in the United States.

“The idea is that the product should only be used by squeezing it into a bowl and eating it with a spoon, but people give it to infants for food,” Wall explains.

Mashing an apple or mashing meat is not the same as biting into an apple or chewing on meat. Sipping your food means not developing the dexterity to handle a spoon. A puree will always be more energy dense and processed than a whole food, like an apple slice. Wall and James designed a trial to test whether infants fed sachets alter their bite development – a good bite is essential for the development of jaw muscles and teeth, which in turn are important for the development of the bite. language. The delay in the development of language and motor skills has big implications for brain development and learning.

“So the question is, are we raising a generation that is used to only consuming porridge and soft foods and lacks windows of development?” Wall asks.

As for the broader research into what our infants eat, the team is turning back to GUINZ data to see what actually happened to the children, who at nine months were not scoring high on the index. infant feeding. They want to know if their predictions have come true.

From Mātātaki | The challenge at the University of Auckland.

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