Health warning over young children’s diet

Hayley Syrad
Hayley Syrad
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Young children are eating too many calories and too much salt and are missing out on key vitamins, experts have warned.

High intake of protein and too many calories overall puts youngsters at risk of obesity, while too much salt could “set taste preference for the future” and put them at risk of high blood pressure and strokes in later life. They discovered 63 per cent of those aged 21 months exceeded daily calorie guidelines.

Researchers also urged parents to follow Government guidelines on giving children up to the age of five supplements to boost levels of iron and vitamin D, after their study found youngsters were woefully lacking in essential vitamins.

Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “There is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling obesity, but what is known is that the healthier start children have, the more likely they are to continue on that trajectory through their life.”

According to figures released earlier this year, nearly 20,000 children in Yorkshire and the Humber leave primary school overweight or obese.

Hull and Bradford, along with Redcar and Cleveland and Middlesbrough, have the highest numbers, with 36 per cent of the 10 to 11 age group - 970 children in Hull alone - weigh too much, increasing their risk of heart disease as they grow older.

The latest study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, examined data for 2,336 children from one of the UK’s largest dietary datasets for toddlers, the Gemini twin birth cohort. Parents of the 21-month-olds filled in three-day food diaries and researchers from University College London (UCL) analysed the results.

They found average daily calorie intake “significantly exceeded” the recommended amount of 968 calories, with 63 per cent of children having too many and consuming an average of 1,035. They warned eating too many calories would lead to obesity in the long run

Protein intake among almost all children was nearly three times higher than the recommended 15g, while fibre intake was 8g - half the recommended amount. Vitamin D intake, was less than half that recommended by the Department of Health, only 30 per cent of children got enough iron, while 99 per cent had more salt than the 0.5g daily recommended by the Government, with many having three times too much.

Hayley Syrad, from UCL’s department of epidemiology and health, said: “The research suggests that the current diets of young children in England are a cause for concern.

“We know that dietary preferences and habits are established during the first two years of life and that what we eat in early life can have an enduring impact on our health.”

Izzi Seccombe, from the Local Government Association, which has responsibility for public health for young children, said: “Obesity can begin at birth, with increasing evidence that what happens during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can have a big impact on how healthy and happy they are as they grow up and into adulthood.

“Councils want to work with Government in its forthcoming childhood obesity strategy on developing a 1,000 days plan which places emphasis on encouraging healthy eating habits from an early age.”