Shifting the obesity paradigm in young children to guidelines for healthy growth

On Sept. 22, at a symposium on dietary guidelines for infants and young children, Jose Saavedra, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at Nestlé Nutrition and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, discussed shifting the obesity paradigm among infants and young children from dietary guidelines to healthy growth options directed to both parents and children.

Research has shown that childhood obesity can begin as early as 9 months of age. Dietary food group patterns are set very early in life; by age 2, children have assumed the eating practices of their family. At this age body mass index is also predictive of obesity in childhood and later life.

However, nutritionally and developmentally appropriate guidelines do not existent for infants 0-2 years of age. As the obesity epidemic continues to shift from treatment to prevention and from foods to diet and behavior, there is an opportunity to address obesity starting in early in life, in a holistic way.

A systemic review of the literature has revealed modifiable factors associated with childhood obesity from ages 0-2 including:

  • Lack of breast feeding
  • Poor diet (e.g., early introduction of foods before 4-6 months, high intake of sweetened beverages, low intake of fruits and vegetables)
  • Lack of responsive feeding practices by caregiver (e.g., low attention to hunger and satiety cues, use of overly restrictive, controlling, rewarding, or pressure feeding)
  • Low sleep duration
  • Too much TV and/or screen viewing time
  • Decreased active play

Saavedra said all of this research points to a need to change the focus of obesity in young children from the adult dietary recommendations focused on food, diet, and physical activity to guidelines that focus on healthy growth and development. This includes developing age appropriate food and diet recommendations as well as guidelines for parents that focus on feeding practices, as well as recommendations on child rearing, sleep, and activity for children. Download the entire presentation here.

Saavedra presented as part of The Obesity Society Annual Meeting. The meeting brought together leading players in the field of obesity and was a forum for increasing knowledge, stimulating research, and promoting better treatment for those affected by the disease.

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