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A Baby’s Diet is Highly Dependent on Mom’s Socioeconomic Background

Update Date: Oct 31, 2014 10:11 AM EDT

Proper nutrition is vital for baby development. In a new study, researchers set out to examine what American babies ate and discovered that their diets were highly dependent on their moms' socioeconomic background.

"We found that differences in dietary habits start very early," said lead author Xiaozhong Wen, MBBS, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Buffalo School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics. "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."

For this study, the team analyzed the eating patterns of more than 1,500 babies between six-months and 12-months-old. The infants were a part of the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, which was conducted between 2005 and 2007 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The researchers found dietary differences based on several factors, such as mother's education, household income, and racial and ethnic background.

Overall, mothers with higher educational levels and families with high household income, defined as greater than $60,000 per year, were more likely to follow the dietary guidelines set by international and pediatric groups. Mothers whose education levels were defined by some or all of high school were more likely to feed their babies a diet high in sugar, fat and protein or a diet high in dairy and regular cereals. This group of mothers generally had a low household income of 25,000 a year or less and were non-Hispanic African-Americans.

A diet high in sugar, fat and protein was linked to a greater gain in the infants' body mass index (BMI). Some of the unhealthy foods that mothers gave to their infants were candy, ice cream, sweet beverages and French fries.

"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. 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," Wen explained according to the university's press release. "This is both an opportunity and a challenge. We have an opportunity to start making dietary changes at the very beginning of life."

The study, "Sociodemographic differences and infant dietary patterns," was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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