Handful of Foods Contribute to High Levels of Fat and Sodium in Kids’ Diets

Most kids are eating too much fat and too much sodium, which can set the stage for a lifetime of unhealthy eating, experts say.

According to new findings from the 2008 Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, kids are eating like it’s Super Bowl Sunday every day, chowing down on hot dogs, bacon, cheese, butter, milk, cakes and cookies, turkey, beef and ready-to-eat cereal. And this handful of foods is primarily responsible for the elevated levels of fat and sodium in kids’ diets, researchers said.

The 2008 study included 3,338 children aged infant to age four, and was intended as an evaluation of kids’ diets.

The new find shows that excess fat and sodium in children’s diets come from only a few foods, and suggests that parents could be doing a better job of setting good examples for kids when it comes to food.

“The first years of a child’s life are a critical period of development. Instilling good eating habits during this time can help put a child on the path to a healthy future,” said Dr. Kathleen Reidy, head of nutrition science at Nestle Infant Nutrition, and co-author of the study.

“Our findings indicate snacks are a significant portion of young children’s diets, and families can play an important role by planning nutritious snacks, especially when on the go,” she said.

Reidy found that about one-third of the average child’s daily caloric intake comes from fat and added sugar, and kids are eating on average about 1,863 milligrams of sodium a day, much higher than the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 1,500 milligrams a day. 

(The Institute of Medicine offers stricter guidelines, and suggests no added sodium for babies under the age of 1, 1,000 milligrams of sodium for kids between the ages of 1 and 3, 1,200 milligrams for kids ages 1 to 8 and 1,500 milligrams for kids ages 9 to 18.)

The findings may help to better target ways to help curb the growing cases of obesity, which has almost doubled in the past 30 years, leading to diagnoses of type 2 diabetes that were virtually unheard of before that time.

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