Current dietary habits of infants and toddlers in Belgium

Feeding habits early in life are important since they are related with the development of obesity and other health problems, such as high blood pressure, later in life. Prevention is the only feasible approach to control the problem of unbalanced nutrition in children and is best started early in life. To have a good understanding of the current dietary habits of Belgian infants and young toddlers, we asked the mothers of almost 500 healthy infants and toddlers (aged 6 months to 3 years old), to complete a detailed diary of everything their child ate and drank during a period of three days. This way, we could calculate the amount of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates and fibre their children consumed during these three days and compare these findings with their respective recommended dietary intakes.

The median energy-intake was one-fifth above the recommended intake. As shown in the upper left panel of the graph, infant formula and milk (bright green boxes) were the main energy source for children up to the age of two years old. With increasing age, between the age of one and three years, the importance of cakes & sweets (light blue boxes) as energy sources rose significantly. An excessive energy intake can be expected to lead to an exaggerated weight gain in these children.

The median protein intake was 2-3 times the recommended amount. As shown in the upper right panel of the figure, milk (bright green boxes) appeared to be the most important protein source in children <2 years of age, with increasing importance of meat in toddlers (bright blue boxes). Protein-intake early in life has been linked with the development of overweight later in childhood; a protein overload could among other things, also lead to renal problems.

Fig1-KoenFat intake was below the recommended dietary intake in one-fifth to one-third of the children (depending on the age of the child). Infancy and toddlerhood are the only periods in life when one shouldn’t worry about fat-intake, since fat plays an important role in the development of the brain and as an important energy source for growth and other body functions. Milk (bright green boxes on the lower left panel of the figure) and in older children also cakes & sweets (light blue boxes) delivered most of the fat in these children’s diet.

The carbohydrate-intake approached the norms for most of the children, and was mainly derived from milk and cakes & sweets (presented in the lower right panel of the figure).

Fibre-intake, which plays an important role in for example a normal intestinal transit, was too low in almost all children. The major sources of fibres were fruits and vegetables in all age categories.

In conclusion, Belgian infants and young toddlers consume too much protein and energy, whilst eating too little fat and fibres. This eating pattern could lead to important health problems later in their childhood or adult life. Parents should be aware that children are not “small adults” and have their own specific needs.

Koen Huysentruyt, Jean De Schepper, Yvan Vandenplas

Department of Paediatrics, Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel,
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB),
Brussels, Belgium

 

Publication

Energy and macronutrient intakes and adherence to dietary guidelines of infants and toddlers in Belgium.
Huysentruyt K, Laire D, Van Avondt T, De Schepper J, Vandenplas Y.
Eur J Nutr. 2015 Aug 6

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