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  • Your Toddler's Diet Won't Increase His Risks For Obesity Or Tooth Decay, Says Study

    But it's not too late to jumpstart healthy eating habits.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Your Toddler's Diet Won't Increase His Risks For Obesity Or Tooth Decay, Says Study
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Parents want their toddlers to grow up healthy so they do everything they can to incorporate nutritious meals into their diet. But this doesn’t always go as planned — every toddler goes through a picky eater phase, which can affect the kinds of food they eat. According to a new study, however, parents need not worry so much — a toddler’s diet does not make a significant impact on medical conditions like the risk of obesity or tooth decay.

    Researchers from the Universities of Adelaide, Curtin, and Otago in Australia examined the whole diets of Australian toddlers to investigate both nutrition and dental health impacts. They found two distinct dietary patterns: First, the ‘family diet’ pattern, which consists of vegetables, fresh fruit, non-white bread, cheese, and red meat and poultry. The second is the ‘cow’s milk and discretionary combination’ pattern, which consists of cow’s milk, fluoridated water, white bread, cheese, and “discretionary food” like processed meat, sugary products, sugar-sweetened beverages, and potato products.

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    Flinders University nutrition researcher Dr. Lucy Bell, who led the study, said that it was common for nutrition studies to focus on the intake of selected dietary elements, such as sugar or dairy only, and then look at only one outcome. Their research, however, looked at diets as a whole.

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    “Rather than focus on particular nutrients or foods, in this study, we analyzed the whole diet of the study participants, who were Australian toddlers from the Study of Mothers’ and Infants’ Life Events affecting oral health (SMILE) birth cohort,” Dr. Bell said in a press release.

    “This enabled us to identify dietary patterns and look at their overall impact on both risk of obesity and early childhood caries (tooth decay),” she adds.

    According to Dr. Bell, there is a range of dietary risk factors for obesity and sugar is only one of them. Other risk factors include saturated fat, refined grains, and processed meat. For poor dental health, risk factors include acidic food.  Dairy, on the other hand, are protective food for teeth, “so it’s most appropriate to look at the whole diet,” she says.

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    Researchers found no statistically significant or clinically meaningful associations between dietary patterns at 12 months and obesity and tooth decay indicators at 24 to 36 months. This means that these outcomes take longer to manifest in a child.

    The team is set to study participant data of five- to 7-year-old children to come up with interventions that can simultaneously prevent obesity and tooth decay in early childhood.

    “We know that the first years of life are a critical period when dietary behaviors and food preferences are established, so early diet habits influence not only current health but future health as well,” said Dr. Bell.

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    This study does not mean that you should feed your children whatever they want. It's important to develop food preferences and jumpstart healthy eating habits as early as toddlerhood.

    If you are worried about what food to give to your toddler, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology developed “Pinggang Pinoy” which includes food recommendations for every age group. if your child is between 3 and 12 years old, an ideal meal for him should include:

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    • Carbohydrates - 1/2 cup of rice or 2 pieces pandesal
    • Protein - 1/2 serving (or about 15 grams) of lean meat
    • Vegetables - 1/2 cup
    • Fruits - 1/2 or 1 piece of a medium-sized fruit

    Make sure to engage your toddlers in physical activities, too! According to the World Health Organization (WHO) kids between 1 and 4 years old should engage in moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity for at least 180 minutes per day. (Read more about it here.)

    Is your child a picky eater? One mom shares her strategy to lessen mealtime struggles with your toddler. Click here to read all about it.

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