Australian researchers focused on examining the diet of toddlers aged 1-2 years as the toddler years are a time of considerable physical and emotional development. During the second year of life, the speed of growth slows in comparison to infancy while nutrient needs remain high. Children aged 1–2 years require more nutrients and energy per kilogram of body weight than adults, which means toddlers must consume an energy- and nutrient-dense diet. This age coincides with the development of autonomy and independence, and the picky eater syndrome correlated with the refusal of new foods.
Increasing childhood obesity has become a global concern and is recognized as a public health issue. Since 1986, prevalence of overweight and obesity in Australia has doubled, with about 18–21% of children aged 2–3 years now classified as overweight or obese.
The researchers recognized that dietary intervention in infancy, promoting fruit and vegetable consumption, while reducing intake of foods that are energy dense but nutrient poor, is important to prevent childhood obesity and the onset of chronic disease.
In this study a group of 177 children participated in the nutritional study. Food and beverages were classified into 10 groups. These consisted of five core groups: fruit, vegetables (including legumes), cereals, meat/alternatives (including fish, poultry, and eggs) and dairy; and five additional groups: unsaturated fats and oils, discretionary choices, sweet beverages, breastmilk and formula. The dairy group included all milks, yoghurt and cheese and dairy alternatives (soy/rice/oat). Intake of cow’s milk alone is also reported separately. Discretionary items included foods high in fat or sugar, such as biscuits, cakes, sweet/savoury pastry items, spreads and sauces, butter and dairy blends, cream, ice-cream, chocolate, lollies, crisps and ‘fast-food’.20 Juice, fruit drinks, cordial, soft drinks and flavoured milks were classified as sweet beverages. For each group, the proportion of children consuming any of that food or beverage on the day of the 24-hour recall is reported. Intake (g/day) of each group is reported for consumers only.
The results reflected that children were consuming a diverse range of food groups, including fruits and vegetables, while a quarter were continuing to breastfeed. A third of the sample was consuming formula, and children with lower dietary diversity had higher formula intake. Almost all children were consuming discretionary items.
The researchers recommended that support mechanisms need to be provided to parents to offer their children with healthier alternatives, offering all core food groups daily as well as unsaturated fats and oils, limiting discretionary choices and ceasing formula use.
Rebecca Byrne, Anthea Magarey, Lynne Daniels. Food and beverage intake in Australian children aged 12-16 months participating in the NOURISH and SAIDI studies. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2014; 38 (4): 326 DOI: 10.1111/1753-6405.1224