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Kids and Health Care: Constant Diligence

The first thing you need to realize about your kids' diet is that you have to be thinking about them from the time they're born until they're 18.

A March 2004 study of infant and toddler eating habits concluded that parents feed their babies better than in the past. Unfortunately, many parents then let toddlers adopt the family's poor eating habits at an early age.

The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study selected a random group of more than 3,000 children aged four months to two years and looked at the food the children ate during an ordinary day. Parents appear to know the importance of good nutrition for babies: Compared to past findings, more babies were breastfed -- and were breastfed for longer periods. And virtually all who were fed formula received the recommended iron-fortified type.

But, as babies grow into toddlers, parents often let their dietary guard down.

Most toddlers did not receive the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Among toddlers aged one to two years, fruit was absent for about half at breakfast, for half at lunch and for about 60 percent at dinner. In the same group, about half had no vegetables at lunch and about one-third had none at dinner -- even when french fries were counted as vegetables.

French fries turned up as one of the three most common vegetables eaten by those aged nine to 11 months. This fatty, high-calorie choice was the most common vegetable from 15 months onward.

Experts say parents should include one or two fruits or vegetables at each meal. Ideally, everyone would eat at least as many -- if not more -- servings.

The most common snacks for toddlers were cookies, crackers, chips, milk, water and fruit drink (not fruit juice). And the majority of toddlers had at least one dessert or sweetened drink every day.

Snacks play a major role in the nutrition of young kids, since their stomach capacity limits the amount of food they can eat at meals. Parents should limit high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks. Better choices include fruit, cheese, yogurt and low-sugar cereals.

The study pointed out that fruit drinks and carbonated drinks often replace milk in toddlers' diets. This is not a good trade-off. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that juice be held from babies until they are six months old. From ages one to six years, children should be limited to a four to six-ounce portion of juice a day. The AAP also stresses that whole milk should be served until age two.

The study also concluded that parents gave up too easily when offering new foods to toddlers. It referred to other studies that showed a new food usually needs to be served eight to 15 times before a young child will grow accustomed to it. But the diet study found that less than 10 percent of parents offered their kids a new food even six times. On the other hand, about 25 percent gave up after serving a new food only once or twice; and 38 to 55 percent threw in the towel after three to five tries.

When it comes to your kids' diet, sodas are particularly bad. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids can't afford to consume empty calories found in soda. The group opposes providing sodas in schools and released a statement that cited research results that supported its position:

  • Drinking one sugared soft drink a day increases the risk of obesity in a child by 60 percent.
    • Average soda serving sizes grew from
    • 6.5 ounces in the 1950s to 20 ounces by the late 1990s
    • .
  • Between 56 percent and 85 percent of school-aged children consume at least one soft drink daily.
  • Teenage males drink the most soda, with 20 percent consuming four or more servings per day.

In the face of deep budget cuts for education, school districts are making exclusive contracts with beverage companies. The soda dollars help pay for items such as band uniforms, field trips and computers.

But a lifetime of obesity is a heavy price to pay for some new epaulets.

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