First 1,000 Days can Make a Child’s Health

First 1,000 Days can Make a Child’s Health

By Gary Tickle, President and CEO, Nestlé Nutrition North America
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Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - 10:00am

CONTENT: Article

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are a blur for many parents: The bouts of nausea, the long awaited birth, the first smile, the first steps, the delight of cooing and an endless supply of diapers. Sleepless nights become restless days when the toddler stage rolls in.

Yet during the first 1,000 days of life, which starts at pregnancy and continues through the age of two, is the time when children are developing eating habits they’ll carry with them well into adulthood. Data shows that too many children in the United States — 8 percent of those ages of two and five — are classified as obese. Indeed, poor nutritional habits that are set in childhood will saddle many of these kids with health issues, at great costs to individuals and society as a whole.

How these choices will play out is no longer a guessing game, thanks to research that Nestlé’s Gerber brand started in 2002, continued in 2008 and carried forward today. In the first-ever nationwide survey of the diets of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, Americans began to have a better idea of the challenges before us. That was just over a decade ago when obesity discussions were in their infancy, Since then, the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) has provided researchers, the federal government and nutrition experts with vital insights that have influenced high-level early childhood nutrition discussions, shaped recommendations for parents and caregivers and helped Nestlé produce healthy, nutritious options for children and families. With the next round of research set to begin in 2015, some of the most recent findings will inform where we go next:

  • Excessive caloric intake starts early in the U.S., beginning in the first year of life.
  • A child’s diet undergoes major changes during months 9-18, and dietary patterns are set by age 2.
  • As children begin eating the same foods as older siblings and adults in the home, their diets mirror some of the family’s unhealthy eating patterns.
  • Too many toddlers and preschoolers have diets low in vegetables and whole grains, and high in sodium, sweets and saturated fat.

The FITS data reveals that even attentive parents might not have the clearest picture of their children’s nutritional habits. Researchers found a major disparity between parents’ perceptions and the reality of their child’s diet and weight. Findings from the most recent study revealed that a majority of parents think their toddler or preschooler consumed enough fruits and vegetables — even though one in four preschoolers failed to eat a single serving of fruit, and one in three didn’t consume a single serving of vegetables on a given day.

Armed with Nestlé’s frequently updated body of research, those who can bring about change in this country — parents, policymakers, researchers and food manufacturers — can all play a part in creating an atmosphere that leads to healthier, more productive lives for children. The first step toward that goal is fully understanding the issues at play.

Bending the curve on obesity could not only save countless lives, but a significant shift could also save money at a time when every health care dollar matters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 35 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese. The myriad health conditions associated with this include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and other life-threatening ailments that are preventable. The annual medical costs of obesity is astounding, topping $140 billion.

Childhood obesity is sadly a strong indictor of adult obesity, reinforcing the need for early intervention in these precious first 1,000 days. Focusing on nutrition early in life could change the trajectory for millions of children.

Understanding the impact of such focus, Nestlé became a strategic partner of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's WIC program to disseminate dietary guidelines for pregnant women and children over 2 years of age to ensure that families get the information they need to make well-informed nutrition decisions.

And FITS discovered that the No. 1 vegetable being consumed by young children was the French fry. This information was shared with the Institute of Medicine. The result: Fruits and vegetables were added to the WIC food package. Also in response to the FITS finding Nestlé renovated several products to address the gap in fruit and vegetable consumption.

A CDC article noted the growing danger of sodium in children’s diets, so Nestlé shared with the CDC the FITS findings that detailed the ways sodium works its way into the diets of young people.

Notable, too, is that Nestlé has also conducted this research in other countries. The findings in Poland, Russia, UAE and China echo the U.S.-based research and enhance our greater understanding of nutritional needs on a global scale.

Though some of the data is discouraging, progress is being made in this fight. The most recent FITS data showed that in just six years childhood nutrition has improved in a number of key areas. For example, between 2002 and 2008, infants consumed less fruit juice, and fewer children between the ages of 6 and 21 months were fed sweets and desserts.

As the largest food and beverage company in the world, Nestlé is proud to contribute to our nation’s understanding of childhood nutrition and is uniquely positioned to bring about the changes needed to help reduce obesity and encourage healthier diets in the United States. Nestlé conducts extensive research and leverages the best science and information to provide nutritious products for our consumers.

The health challenges that face our country — and our world — require cooperation and attention beginning at the dinner table and reaching all the way to the corridors of government and corporate America.

Nestlé is honored to take its place at the table so that every child in America and beyond gets the start in life that can put them on the path toward an even better, and healthier, future.