Human milk is the preferred feeding for both term and preterm infants. While being considered optimal for term infants, human milk, even from mothers delivering preterm infants, is lacking in protein, energy, sodium, calcium, and phosphorus, resulting in poorer growth and nutrient deficiencies when compared to formulas designed for these high-risk infants. Further, the lack of growth is associated with long-term adverse consequences. Since human milk has unique properties in promoting gastrointestinal maturation
and immunological benefits, it is prudent to implement strategies to fortify it appropriately to realize its benefits which include reduced rates of necrotizing enterocolitis, fewer episodes of sepsis and urinary tract infections, and improved visual and neurocognitive development. Donor human milk is being widely used when mothers’ own milk is not available or is in short supply. While it retains some of the biological properties and clinical benefits of mothers’ own milk, it requires additional care in fortification, especially if the donor milk is from a pool of term human milk. As nutritional strategies improve, the ultimate goal is to minimize extrauterine growth restriction and promote appropriate growth after regaining birth weight.
The latest exhaustive survey of dietary patterns in infants from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) in North America documents and quantifies current trends in infant feeding. These include higher than generally recommended energy, protein, and saturated fat intakes. The majority of infants are bottle fed at some point in their first year of life, and their weaning diet often includes low intakes of fruits and vegetables, with high starchy, rather than green or yellow, vegetables. Early introduction of solids, use of cow’s milk prior to 1 year of age, and high juice intake in the first 2 years – all less desirable diet practices – are improving, but are still prevalent. More preschoolers are likely to get sweets or sweetened beverages than a serving of fruit or a vegetable on a given day. These food intake patterns mimic the adult American diet and are associated with an increased risk of obesity in childhood and later life. But more importantly, these patterns appear to be set as early as 18 months of age, and by 20 months of age, they mimic the adult diet. Despite increase in total energy intake, and greater variety of foods, the basic characteristics of macronutrient intake distribution and food group contribution of energy to the diet before 2 years of age remain remarkably stable and similar to the family table. Obesity prevention needs to include specific targets in terms of breastfeeding and adequate formula feeding, as well as appropriate introduction of weaning foods with goals of changing the inadequate patterns documented in the FITS. These interventions will also require addressing parent and caregiver behaviors, including attending to hunger satiety cues (responsive feeding), and shaping early food preferences. This needs to be done starting at birth, in the first months of life. Early intervention offers a unique and potentially efficacious opportunity to shape the future dietary patterns of the next generation.
Fruit and vegetable (FV) intake may protect against several chronic diseases, and the preferences and habits in relation to FV intake appear to form in early childhood. Child FV intake reflects many influences from multiple levels (e.g. internal to the child, family, school, and neighborhood). We have documented influences at each of these levels, but more definitive research in longitudinal samples remains to be conducted. Even though validated comprehensive models of influences on child FV intake in longitudinal studies are not available to guide intervention design for children of different ages, there has been an urgency to initiate chronic disease prevention interventions to mitigate the substantial health consequences. Effective interventions use known behavior change procedures to change the influences on FV intake enough to change the behavior, but few such interventions have demonstrated effectiveness at meaningful levels. Innovative methods need to be explored. Videogames for Health offer a medium that is attractive to children and shows promising results, especially for dietary behavior change. Exciting additional research is needed to clarify possible bidirectional influences between the environmental and individual influences on child intake with possible agerelated differences in influence and in the optimal design of video games for dietary change.
Low-birth-weight infants, in particular those with birth weights <1,500 g, benefit from fortified breast milk. Low protein intake is critical, because it is limiting growth. Long-term health outcomes in small-for-gestational-age infants from developing countries in relation to their early nutrition still need to be evaluated in controlled trials. Term infants both in developing and developed countries also benefit from exclusive breastfeeding: an analysis of a large dataset of surveys from 20 developing countries (168,000 infants and small children from the Demographic Health Survey, United States Agency for International Development) indicates that exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months is associated with significantly higher weight, length, and lower probability of stunting, wasting, and infections. Nine out of 10 infants still receive breast milk between 6 and 12 months and probability of infections tends to be lower if breastfeeding is continued during that age range. Between 12 and 24 months, when stunting and wasting rates are already high, 7 out of 10 infants still receive breast milk. No associations of feeding patterns with disease outcome can be found. Effectiveness trials of complementary feeding strategies in food-insecure countries are urgently needed. Follow-up until 10 years in a developed country now indicates that an infant population at risk for allergic diseases benefits both from breastfeeding and the use of hypoallergenic formula during the first 4 months of life, when compared to cow’s milk-based formula: both the cumulative incidences of atopic disease and all allergic diseases are significantly lower.