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Infants and Junk Food

Infants and Junk FoodBabies and toddlers are increasingly weaned on soda and French fries, according to a new study co-authored by a Tufts professor. Boston.

Boston [11.04.03] Like many of their parents, America's children are eating an unhealthy mix of foods that are too high in fat and salt and too low in fruits and vegetables. According to new research co-authored by a Tufts professor, the diets of many toddlers in the United States are alarmingly unhealthy - raising concern about poor nutrition in young kids across the nation.

"Infants as young as seven months drink soda when they should have breast milk or formula. Toddlers eat French fries more than any other vegetable. And many children go an entire day without seeing a piece of fruit or green vegetable," reported the Los Angeles Times.

The findings -- which were presented at the American Dietetic Association's annual conference last month and will be published in the association's journal in January - suggest an alarming prevalence of poor nutrition among youngsters, and may be indicative that parents are not giving their children proper nutritional guidance.

The survey, conducted in part by researchers at the Tufts School of Medicine, was based on telephone interviews with parents and caregivers of 3,000 randomly selected children between four months and 24 months of age.

When the caretakers were asked what their kids ate that particular day, researchers found that a third of children younger than two years old ate no fruits or vegetables. Of those who did eat a vegetable, French fries were the most common for children 15 months and older.

According to Kristy Hendricks - who co-authored the piece with Johanna Dwyer, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy - these food choices are hardly optimal for growing children

"There's nothing wrong with potatoes, but they're not the only veggie, and fried isn't the best," Hendricks - an associate professor of family medicine and community health at Tufts' Medical School - told the Times.

The Tufts expert said that parents should offer other options for their children - especially since food habits and preferences are largely shaped during youth.

"I would give things like other soft-cooked vegetables that children like, [such as] sweet potatoes and cooked carrots," Hendricks - who directs the dietetic internship program at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts-New England Medical Center - told the Times.

Children will eat nutritiously if healthy food is given to them, the Tufts expert told the Times. "[But] if the choices in front of them are unhealthy, it's a very different story."

More than 60 percent of the one-year-old children surveyed had dessert or candy at least once per day. Nine percent of children from nine to 11 months ate fries at least once per day, and 20 percent of those 19 months to two years had fries daily.

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