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Food preferences and infant feeding practices influenced by ethnicity

Posted:  Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Ethnic differences in infant feeding practices

Foods introduced during infancy lay the foundation for food preferences in later life! Moreover, early life nutrition is crucial for the proper growth and development of children. However, ethnicity plays an important role in the feeding practices, and in inculcating healthy eating habits in children. A new study published in the journal Nutrients investigated the differences in feeding practices in a multi-ethnic Asian population.

The Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) cohort study looked at three major Asian ethnic groups in Singapore, namely the Chinese (60.6%), Malay (23.0%) and Indians (16.4%). Eight hundred and forty-two mother-infant pairs were interviewed about particular aspects of feeding practices for infants aged 9 months and 12 months. Maternal and infant data regarding ethnicity, age, and duration of breastfeeding were collected through interviewer-administered questionnaires at the 9th- and 12th-month postnatal clinic visits. Detailed infant feeding practices, such as the use of dietary supplements, addition of oil and seasonings to foods, use of blended foods, and self-feeding methods; and milk and sweetened beverages were also collected.

The majority of infants (86.4%) were breastfed until 12 months of age, and more than half of the infants were weaned between six and seven months of age (58.9%). The common first foods introduced were rice cereal (53.7%), non-rice cereal (17.2%), and rice porridge (12.1%).

Dietary supplements such as iron, calcium, and fish oil were given, along with vitamins A, B12, C, and D. Other types consumed included protein powder, spirulina, goat’s milk tablets, plant-source oils; and lysine supplements. Mineral and vitamin supplementations were given mostly to Indian infants (15.2% and 19.6%), followed by Chinese (11.8% and 16.5%) and Malay (10.3% and 13.9%) infants, respectively.

A few children were given probiotic supplements such as probiotic drops or powder or probiotics-enriched foods such as cultured milk and cereals during the first year of life, whereas about 15.7% children received homoeopathic preparations. Food preparations of Indian children were added with seasonings. Indian infants were observed to consume more sweetened drinks from bottle than infants from other groups.

Differences in food preferences and feeding practices have been observed among different ethnic groups living in a geographical area. Considering these, healthcare providers and policy makers may provide culturally appropriate advice to mothers, and develop feeding recommendations based on WHO principles and guidelines.

News Source: Toh JY, Yip G, Han WM, et al. Infant Feeding Practices in a Multi-Ethnic Asian Cohort: The GUSTO Study. Nutrients. 2016 May 13;8(5):293.