BUFFALO, N.Y., Oct. 30 (UPI) -- The dietary guidelines offered by the U.S. government only apply to children two and up. Other than the recommendation by a variety of health organizations that mothers exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months of life, little formal consensus on the ideal diet for infants exists.
So what do babies in the U.S. eat? Recently, researchers at the University of Buffalo set out to find out. They analyzed data from a two-year Infant Feeding Practices Study that included 760 boys and 795 girls aged 6 to 12 months, and found much a baby's diet is dependent on the socioeconomic background of his or her mother.
Researchers found the children of higher income mothers, with household incomes above $60,000 per year, were more likely to include nutrients -- from solid foods and continued breast feeding -- in accordance with guidelines published by international health and pediatric organizations. Similar patterns held true for the babies of mothers with higher levels of education -- some college or more.
On the other hand, the children of mothers with lower household incomes, below $25,000 per year, and mothers with lower educational attainment, some or all of high school, were more likely to eat diets higher in fat, sugar and proteins, as well as more reliant on diary and cereal products.
"We found that differences in dietary habits start very early," lead study author Xiaozhong Wen, an assistant professor in Buffalo's Department of Pediatrics, said in press release. "Dietary patterns are harder to change later if you ignore the first year, a critical period for the development of taste preferences and the establishment of eating habits."
The findings have serious implications for the future of two of America's most pressing health problems, obesity and diabetes.
"There is substantial research to suggest that if you consistently offer foods with a particular taste to infants, they will show a preference for these foods later in life," Wen explained. "So if you tend to offer healthy foods, even those with a somewhat bitter taste to infants, such as pureed vegetables, they will develop a liking for them. But if you always offer sweet or fatty foods, infants will develop a stronger preference for them or even an addiction to them."
"This is both an opportunity and a challenge," added Wen. "We have an opportunity to start making dietary changes at the very beginning of life."
The study was published this week in the journal Pediatrics.