Taste for sweets develops in infancy

WASHINGTON — A baby can develop strong eating habits before he or she even learns to walk or talk.

New evidence shows dietary patterns are set early, and good nutrition in the first year of life can have an impact for years to come.

“I don’t think until now we really understood that we develop certain tastes and preferences at such an early age,” says Dr. David Nelson, chief of pediatrics at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.

He points to a slew of new studies published in a special supplement to the journal Pediatrics. The 11 studies are based on two sets of data compiled by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies.

The data is comprehensive. Researchers followed 1,500 children, surveying their eating habits until their first birthdays, and checking in again when they turned six.

Nelson calls the data “persuasive and quite convincing” and says the investigators underscored the importance of infant nutrition.

Among other things, these researchers found that after being fed breast milk or formula for the first six months, babies who graduated to a diet including fruits and vegetables were very likely to be eating them years later. Nelson says a baby may reject one of these foods at first, but will accept it over time, and parents need to keep trying.

“If you keep feeding it, they acquire a taste for it, and they will get it and they will sort of like it,” he says, adding “I have never known an infant who wouldn’t take fruits and vegetables readily if the parents were a bit persistent.”

Another key finding was the development of an early sweet tooth in babies who are given fruit juice and other sugary drinks. Those infants tend to develop a thirst for soda later on.

Pediatricians have long urged parents to stay away from fluids containing added sugar.

“We prefer and recommend if you want to give a child extra fluids, just give plain water,” says Nelson.

He says kids who drink juice as babies are at higher risk of developing obesity later, adding he asks parents to stay away from fruit juice until their child is several years old.

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