The US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services have released their Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. For the first time ever, they have included recommendations for children aged birth to 24 months.
What a child eats in their early years of life is incredibly important. There is a tremendous amount of growth that takes place during that time. By the third birthday, the brain has reached 80% of its adult size. Early nutrition affects health long term. The foods a child is exposed to can also have an impact on their life long culinary preferences.
“A healthy diet during these life stages is essential to support healthy growth and development during infancy and childhood and to promote health and prevent chronic disease through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood,” the report states.
The Committee’s Recommendations
There has been no change to the longstanding recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. While exclusivity and a longer duration of breastfeeding show better outcomes, any breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of becoming overweight or obesity, type 1 diabetes, and asthma. If a mother is unable to breastfeed or chooses not to then, infant formula should be used.
Various factors were taken into consideration when determining the ideal timing for introducing what they refer to as complementary foods and beverages. Parents generally refer to this memorable milestone as baby’s first solid food. The committee looked at the impact introduction of complementary foods and beverages had on various outcomes.
- A child’s nutritional status
- Their growth and body composition
- Neurocognitive development
- Bone health
- The risk of food allergies and atopic diseases
Their advice is to wait until an infant is at least four months old. Starting before six months offered no long term advantages or disadvantages in the outcomes listed.
Breastfed children should be given foods that are good sources of iron and zinc, as well as those that have adequate amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Over the years, there has been a fair amount of debate about when to introduce foods that have a high potential to result in an allergic response. Parents were told to wait until after the first birthday to introduce foods with a high allergy potential. The committee now recommends adding peanuts and eggs in an age-appropriate form before the first birthday. It is believed that early introduction may result in a reduced risk of food allergy to these foods.
“The evidence for such protective effects is less clear for other types of foods, but the Committee found no evidence that avoiding such foods in the first year of life is beneficial with regard to preventing food allergies or other atopic diseases,” the report stated.
Sugar-sweetened beverages should be avoided in children younger than two years.
- Consumption of these drinks can result in a decrease of more nutritious foods being consumed, which in turn can cause nutrient gaps.
- Evidence linking the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by young children to a risk of being overweight.
- Children who consume sugar-sweetened drinks early in life may result in increased amounts consumed when they get older.
Dietary Supplement Advice
Breastfed infants younger than nine months old do not need iron supplements unless they are iron deficient.
Vitamin D supplements are currently advised for breastfed infants. The current dose recommended is 400 IU per day, and there is no evidence for more than that.