A recent study has shown that a greater number of mothers are not complying with feeding guidelines for their babies who put the infants at a higher risk of childhood obesity and other related diseases.
The research, conducted by New Zealand scientists and published British Journal of Nutrition, reviewed mothers’ compliance rate with the New Zealand’s infant feeding guidelines in the first year of life of the children in the largest study of child development in the country and found that non-adherence to laid principles of feeding put the children at greater risk.
This explains reasons for the continuous advocacy of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on adequate feeding of infants, particularly in the first five years of life, to deter all preventable childhood diseases.
According to WHO 2020 Global Report on infant and young child feeding, the it stated that 149 million children under 5 were estimated to be stunted (too short for age), while 45 million were estimated to be wasted (too thin for height), and 38.9 million were overweight or obese.
The apex global health institution further revealed that only about 44% of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed, as few children receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods. In many countries less than a fourth of infants 6–23 months of age meet the criteria of dietary diversity and feeding frequency that are appropriate for their age.
While maintaining that undernutrition is associated with 45% of child deaths, it reiterated the importance of improving child development and reducing health costs through breastfeeding and proper supplementary feeding.
Further findings from the New Zealand shows that one in four babies were fed in line with the current Ministry of Health guidelines, which cover feeding practices such as duration of breastfeeding; age at which babies start solid food; fruit and vegetable intake; addition of salt and sugar to food; eating iron rich food; and consumption of inappropriate drinks.
It research revealed that very low adherence to infant feeding guidelines was subsequently associated with childhood obesity at four-and-a-half years old.
According to the Professor of Nutrition at the University of Auckland, Clare Wall, “This is the first New Zealand study will explore a connection between infant feeding guidelines and childhood overweight or obesity.
“Parents and caregivers are constantly challenged with food environments that are not conducive to healthy eating. It is worrying to see this association between low adherence to infant feeding guidelines in the first year of life and childhood overweight and obesity in the pre-school years,” she says.
“This research highlights the value of these guidelines in offering some protection against childhood obesity which is a really important finding. It suggests the need to more actively support, and potentially intervene, to help families’ access healthy food and follow recommended infant feeding practices in an effort to reduce our growing childhood obesity rates.”
For the Lead researcher, University of Auckland Senior Research Fellow, Dr Teresa Gontijo de Castro, although a quarter of babies met 10 out of the 12 guidelines, only 2% of babies met all the infant feeding guidelines, while around 15% met fewer than half of the recommendations.
Castro identified the children to be at the highest risk of obesity as the third of children with the lowest adherence to infant feeding. The study however noted some differences in gender of affected children, while putting the rate of infants at risk from the study to be around 50%.
Sequel to their findings, the researchers stated the need for interventions on infants feeding and increases in enlightenment of mothers on feeding according to guidelines in order to forestall further risk in children.