Poor Diets Begin in Infancy, But Poverty May Not Be Cause


A study conducted by researchers at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences found shocking differences in the food babies in different socioeconomic classes are fed.

After taking an in-depth look of the eating habits of 1,500 infants at the ages of 6 months and 1 year researchers, led by Xiaozhong Wen, found infants were being fed foods not appropriate or healthy for them including candy, ice cream, soda and French fries, writes Roberto A. Ferdman for The Washington Post.

"The extent to which lower socioeconomic classes (i.e., low household income, low maternal education) are associated with unhealthy infant dietary patterns is substantial," said Wen.

The data came from the Infant Feeding Practices study. It documented 18 different types of food including formula, breast milk, cow's milk, soy milk, other dairy foods, other soy food, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, and sweet drinks. The researchers then divided those foods into four separate categories for infants: "formula", "infant guideline solids", "high/sugar/fat/protein", and "high/regular cereal".

Infants who were fed a diet consisting of breast milk and solid foods that adhere to the infant guidelines came from families with a household income about $60,000. Those mothers generally had educations ranging from some college to post-grad education. Babies who had diets filled with sugar, fat, dairy and regular cereal generally came from households that had an annual income of $25,000 or less and the mothers, who were predominately non-Hispanic African Americans, had a high school diploma or less, reports Ellen Goldbaum for Futurity.

Babies who had the fatty, sugar-laden diet did not grow as tall from 6 months to 12 months as babies with a healthier diet, and they gained weight faster. Wen says this is possibly because the food they are getting lacks the proper nutrition and therefore prohibits bone growth.

Another detrimental effect poor diet has on these infants is that the food they are given within the first year will affect their palates in the long run, which is very difficult to reverse. Poor dietary habits begin in the first year of life, writes Samantha Olsen for Medical Daily.

Formula-fed babies are also missing out on all the natural antibodies that help a baby improve their immune system. Studies have found it raises a child's intelligence, cognitive function, and even reduces the risk of a child becoming overweight, developing Type 2 diabetes, and asthma. "This is both an opportunity and a challenge," Wen said. "We have an opportunity to start making dietary changes at the very beginning of life."

One reason poor dietary choices are being made my mothers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is that many of them are in the Special Supplemental Nutrition program for Women and Infants (WIC). High formula consumption could be due to the fact that WIC supplies assistance in those purchases.

Money is commonly blamed for poor dietary habits. However, when the numbers are examined, fast food is actually more expensive than a home cooked meal, reports Mark Bittman for The New York Times. For a family of four it costs about $28 dollars to eat at McDonalds. At home a meal of chicken, vegetables, salad, and milk can be made for around $14, or even cheaper still, rice, beans, peppers and onions costs just $9. The excuse for eating junk food because it's cheaper doesn't add up, says Bittman — it comes down to taste preference, and that begins in infancy.

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