Babies and toddlers hopping on the extra foods gravy train

10 November 2006

All but one of the 429 children in the study consumed 'extra' foods during the three-day period.
All but one of the 429 children in the study consumed 'extra' foods during the three-day period.

Sweetened drinks, biscuits, cakes, chips and other low-nutrient, high energy snacks are contributing up to one-quarter of toddlers' energy needs, a University of Sydney researcher has found.

The survey, which involved 429 children from Western Sydney aged 6 to 24 months, found that all but one of the children consumed 'extra' foods during the three-day period of the study.

'Extra' foods include chips, chocolate, cordial, biscuits and cakes, according to the lead researcher, Dr Karen Webb, a nutritionist and lecturer in the School of Public Health. Along with her colleagues at the University of Sydney Professor Stephen Leeder and Dr Tim Gill, Dr Webb's research found that babies and toddlers were already eating many more snacks and sweets than official guidelines recommended for older children.

Fats and oils and products such as biscuits, pastries and cakes were consumed by 90% of the children over the three-day period when their intake was recorded. One in four (41%) of the children studied consumed cordials daily, and another 29% did so on alternate days.

Two-thirds of the children ate sweet biscuits on the majority of record-keeping days. Other popular 'extra' foods included potato chips, chocolate and ice-cream which were consumed by 54%, 38% and 24% of children respectively.

One in five children consumed cakes, sweet buns or cake-type muffins, and one in 10 children ate take-away pizza, hamburgers and/or doughnuts during the three-day period.

The diets of children who consumed the largest amount of extra foods were only slightly higher in total energy intake. However Dr Webb said she is concerned that high levels of 'extra' foods in babies' and toddlers' diets may set a preference for highly processed food for life.

And although their total energy was similar to other children's, those children whose diets contained high levels of 'extra' foods consumed fewer nutrients overall, as more of their energy intake came from fats and sugars.

The study, called Consumption of 'extra' foods (energy-dense, nutrient-poor) among children aged 6-24 months from western Sydney, Australia, is published in the Public Health Nutrition Journal.

Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100