Study: Healthy Eating Habits Begin Early

shutterstock_170755439Childhood obesity rates in the United States are still rising, and right now nearly a third of American children and teens are overweight or obese. As experts look for ways to advocate a healthier diet and lifestyle, researchers in Australia believe they may have found an important piece to the puzzle: exposing kids to a range of healthy foods right from the start.

In a study published online last month in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, scientists from the Queensland University of Technology revealed that children who eat more fruits and vegetables as babies are more likely to enjoy those foods as adolescents and adults.

Researchers looked at data for nearly 350 children from birth to nearly four years of age. Specifically, they wanted to know what types of food they ate and how often they consumed “noncore” foods—those not considered essential for daily nutrition (e.g. sweets and salty snacks). They also took into account other factors such as gender, whether or not babies had been breast fed, and when they started eating solid foods.

At the end of the study, researchers were able to determine that, on average, kids who regularly ate nutrient-rich fruits and veggies continued to enjoy those foods as they grew older. In addition, they tended to be less fussy about what they ate and more open to trying different foods.

Lead author Kimberley Mallan, PhD and her colleagues point out that a child’s food preferences develop fairly early, often in the first two years of life. For this reason, providing healthful, nutrient-rich foods and snacks (including plenty of low-sugar fruits and non-starchy veggies) is important when it comes to shaping healthy eating habits for life.


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Early Life Stress Affects Gut Microbes, May Lead to Anxiety & Depression

shutterstock_42539698As scientists continue to explore the link between gut bacteria and mental health, Canadian researchers recently discovered that stress in the early stages of life can alter the bacterial population in the gut—which may have lasting implications when it comes to a healthy brain and mood in adulthood.

In a study published online last month in the journal Nature Communications, experts from the Family Digestive Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario revealed that stress in infancy may trigger changes in the developing microbiome, which in turn may increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression later in life.

For the purpose of the study, researchers used two groups of newborn mice: one with normal gut bacteria and one with no gut bacteria. To analyze the effects of early life stress, the mice in both groups were separated from their mothers for a few hours each day for nearly three weeks.

Interestingly, while both groups of mice exhibited elevated stress hormone levels, those with normal gut bacteria displayed anxious or depressed behavior as well as impaired digestive function—symptoms not seen in the mice with no gut bacteria. Lead author Dr. Premysl Bercik and his colleagues believe even small changes in gut bacteria during a child’s early years may have “profound effects” on mood and behavior as an adult.


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