Why feeding matters in early life

In its tenth anniversary year, the Infant & Toddler Forum calls for greater awareness of the connection between nutrition and health in early life and the impact poor nutrition has on a child’s health, now and in the future.

The Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) is proud to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year with a renewed commitment to ensuring all children get the best start in life.

The early years are now well-established as critical to influencing health outcomes in later life, and whilst the past ten years have seen a growing commitment to early years intervention, obesity is still a major public health issue that continues to threaten the health of younger people. England is the ninth fattest nation in Europe, and one in four seven to 11-year-olds are overweight or obese.i There is a four-fold increase in the number of children admitted to hospital over the last decade due to obesity-related illnesses,ii and parents are often reluctant to accept that their child is overweight – recent research has shown that 77% of parents did not agree that their child was overweight, and of those who did, only 41% accepted they were putting their child’s future health at risk.iii

Judy More, paediatric dietitianand ITF member, said: “While children’s diets have shown improvement over the last ten years, there is still more work to be done. Obesity and dental decay are seen in children who have an excess of sweet food and drinks, and iron deficiency anaemia in those that are offered a poor diet without enough iron rich foods. Rickets is a fairly rare disease but is found in toddlers who are not given a vitamin D supplement and whose mothers did not take a vitamin D supplement during pregnancy.

“It’s clear, we need to act earlier” says Dr Atul Singhal, Professor of Paediatric Nutrition at the UCL Institute of Child Health, and Chair of the ITF. “Evidence is slowly building to reveal a connection between the health of the mother and later health of the child, suggesting that protecting the nutrition and health of women before and during pregnancy may be the starting point if we are to improve the health of the next generation.”

This year, the ITF will take a life course approach to nutrition and health, exploring the early connection through pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood. Our aim is to support and empower families to make healthy lifestyle choices by delivering clear, practical advice on those critical early windows of opportunity to provide children with the best start in life.

A key publication this year will be the Developmental Stages of Early Feeding Factsheet. Developmental milestones can be important markers of typical child development and can be used to reassure parents about their child’s development. This evidence-based resource will give simple, practical advice about the development of skills related to feeding and eating behaviour from before birth.

In March 2014 the ITF will launch an iPhone app to give parents and carers the ability to log and analyse their child’s daily food intake. The Tot It Up app will be available through the Apple App Store and will provide practical advice based on a child’s food intake, to help parents ensure they have a balanced diet.

To find out more information on health and development in the early years, sign up for monthly email bulletins with news and information from the Infant & Toddler Forum.

i European Association for the Study of Obesity. Facts and Statistics. 2013. Available at http://easo.org/task-forces/childhood-obesity-cotf/facts-statistics Last accessed 21.02.14
ii Jones Nielsen J, Laverty A, et al. Rising Obesity-Related Hospital Admissions among Children and Young People in England: National Time Trends Study. June 2013. PLOS ONE Vol 8 Issue 6 365764

iii Saxena A, Laverty AA. Confronting child obesity in primary care, British Journal of General Practice. January 2014

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Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.