Childhood 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.