#March4Nutrition: Envision better diets for babies and toddlers

This National Nutrition Month, 1,000 Days is imagining a world in which all moms and babies are healthy, nourished and thriving through our annual #March4Nutrition campaign.

All month long, we invite you to follow #March4Nutrition on Facebook and Twitter to learn about the issues affecting mothers and their children, the work of 1,000 Days and our partners to ensure moms and babies are healthy and thriving, and how you can get involved!

This week we’re envisioning better diets for babies and toddlers.

Food preferences and eating habits start forming in the first 1,000 days. In fact, during the first trimester of pregnancy, a baby’s sense of smell and taste begin to develop, which means all of the early “tasting” a baby does in utero can influence the kinds of food he will like later in life. Then, once a baby is born, breastfeeding provides him with the perfect nutrition to support brain development, healthy growth and a strong immune system. At 6 months of age, a baby starts to need more than just breastmilk or formula to support his rapid growth and development, so it is essential that he begins to be introduced to nutrient-rich whole foods like vegetables, fruits and proteins. And by the time a baby transitions to toddlerhood, he is encouraged to eat healthy meals to continue to fuel a strong body and smart brain.

Just as important as what babies and toddlers eat is what they should not eat – like foods and drinks with too much sugar or sodium. Unhealthy eating is a serious concern, as it is contributing to a dramatic rise in the levels of obesity in toddlers and young children. Young children who are overweight or obese are much more likely to be obese as adults and are at increased risk for serious health problems in adulthood, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Supporting healthy weight gain, teaching good eating habits and encouraging responsive feeding practices for babies and toddlers can help build a foundation for a thriving future.

The Current Situation

Unfortunately, too many kids grow up without the essential nutrients they need to thrive. Globally, poor diet is responsible for more ill health than any other cause and is the second-leading risk factor for death. In addition, only 51% of children aged 6-23 months meet the minimum meal frequency, and a mere 25% meet the minimum dietary diversity, with large disparities on these rates around the world. Meanwhile, as unhealthy diets and feeding practices become pervasive, obesity is increasingly affecting young children.

Here in the U.S., the situation is similarly concerning. The diets of U.S. infants and toddlers now mirror the adult American diet, with too few fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods and too many added sugars and saturated fats. More than a quarter of young children from 6 months to 4 years do not eat a single serving of vegetables on a given day. Among those toddlers who do eat vegetables, french fries are most commonly consumed. Meanwhile, over half of toddlers and preschoolers have one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day.

Furthermore, parents and caregivers often make eating and feeding decisions with very little guidance and use conflicting information. According to a nationally representative online survey conducted by 1,000 Days and Harris Poll, more than half of the mothers surveyed said they received mixed messages about what to feed their young children. Mothers and other caregivers struggle to reconcile contradictory information on infant and young child feeding from a wide array of sources ranging from health providers to parenting sites and other moms on social media.

The Opportunity

We envision a world where ALL parents can access the information and the nutritious foods they need to give their kids a healthy start.

1,000 Days is taking several important steps to ensure babies and toddlers everywhere have healthy diets. As an immediate solution, we are partnering with experts – including the CDC – to translate evidence-based nutrition information into practical resources for parents. We answer parents’ top questions about what, when, and how to feed infants and toddlers in a series of bite-sized videos. Watch them here!

We are also tracking the development of the first-ever dietary recommendations for pregnant women, infants and toddlers in the next Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new guidance will provide parents and caregivers with the evidence-based information they need to give their children the best chance to lead healthy, prosperous lives that are free of preventable chronic disease. The recommendations will also inform federal nutrition programs that reach young children and their families, as well as serve as an important reference point for physicians, nutrition counselors, and early childcare providers.

In a world where all babies and toddlers have healthy diets, children will be set up for a healthy, thriving future. This is the world we want.