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Sunday, October 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Bad eating habits start before age 2, study indicates

By T.A. Badger
The Associated Press

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SAN ANTONIO — Even before their second birthday, many American children are developing the same bad eating habits that plague the nation's adults — too much fat, sugar and salt and too few fruits and vegetables.

A new study of more than 3,000 youngsters found significant numbers of infants and toddlers are downing French fries, pizza, candy and soda.

Children 1 to 2 years old require about 950 calories per day, but the study found that the median intake for that age group is 1,220 calories — an excess of nearly 30 percent. For those 7 months to 11 months old, the daily caloric surplus was about 20 percent.

"By 24 months, patterns look startlingly similar to some of the problematic American dietary patterns," said an overview of the Feeding Infants & Toddlers Study (FITS), commissioned by baby-food maker Gerber Products.

Recent research has found that roughly one in five Americans is considered obese, double the rate in the mid-1980s.

The FITS overview was presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Dietetic Association. The complete study results are to be published in the association's journal in January.

The study involved random telephone interviews conducted in 2002 that asked parents or primary caregivers what their youngsters ages 4 months to 2 years ate that particular day.

Up to one-third of the children younger than 2 consumed no fruits or vegetables, according to the survey. And for those who did have a vegetable, French fries were the most common selection for children 15 months and older.

Nine percent of children 9 months to 11 months old ate fries at least once per day. For those 19 months to 2 years old, more than 20 percent had fries daily.

Hot dogs, sausage and bacon also were daily staples for many children — 7 percent in the 9- to 11-month group, and 25 percent in the older range.

More than 60 percent of 12-month-olds had dessert or candy at least once per day, and 16 percent ate a salty snack.

Thirty to 40 percent of the children 15 months and up had a sugary fruit drink each day, and about 10 percent had soda.

The study also found that parents were ignoring widely accepted practices by allowing:

• 29 percent of infants to eat solid food before they were 4 months old.

• 17 percent to drink juice before 6 months.

• 20 percent to drink cow's milk before 12 months.

Shortcomings were more pronounced for families receiving financial assistance through the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, the study found. More than 40 percent of WIC toddlers did not eat fruit on the survey day, and those children also drank more sweetened beverages.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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