Can inadequate introduction of food into an infant's diet lead to unhealthy consequences?

Wanessa Casteluber Lopes, professor at Faculdades Unidas do Norte de Minas (Funorte) and Medical School Ibituruna (FASI), graduated from the Universidade Estadual de Montes Claros (Unimontes), Montes Claros, MG, Brazil. E-mail: nessacasteluber@yahoo.com.br

A study on the frequency of breastfeeding and the introduction of complementary feeding in children aged 0-24 months in the city of Montes Claros (MG) pointed inadequate dietary practices that may directly affect the benefits of breastfeeding and bring harmful consequences for children’s health in the short and long term.

In the period of exclusive breastfeeding, children already received water and non-maternal milk; upon introduction of complementary feeding, delicacies were offered at early stages. This is what researchers from Unimontes, in Montes Claros (MG) concluded after evaluating food consumption pattern of 545 children aged under 24 months and living in the urban area of Montes Claros (MG), in 2015. The study was published on Revista Paulista de Pediatria, issue of June 2018.

The cross-sectional population-based study collected data on interviews with caregivers of children at their homes. A questionnaire on socio-demographic situation of the family, maternal-infant characteristics and food consumption was applied. At the end of 180 days of life, 4% of the children were on exclusive breastfed, 22.4% on predominant breastfed, and 43.4% on complementary breastfed. Children would also receive water (56.8%), natural juice/infant formula (15.5%) and cow’s milk (10.6%) in the third month of life. At 12 months of age, artificial juice had been offered to 31.1% of children, and 50% had already consumed sweets. Before turning one-year old, 25% of children had already eaten instant noodles.

According to the research, introduction of cereals, vegetables, beans and meat among the children evaluated was within recommendations; however, the fruits were offered before the age of six months. As for consumption of sweets, almost half of the children had already been offered sweets (such as lollipops, candy and toffees) before completing one year of life. Sugar and chocolate had been introduced in the same period for approximately 30.0% of the children, and honey for 10.0% of them. The consumption of foods with high concentrations of sugars and fats is associated with overweight and cavities in children (Abeshu MA, Lelisa A, Geleta B.; 2016), researchers report. As for the nutritional aspect, early introduction of food is unfavorable as it increases the risk of contamination and allergic reactions, interferes with the absorption of important breast milk’s nutrients and implies early weaning possibility.

Considering that the early years of life are characterized by rapid growth and development, and that food plays a key role in ensuring proper occurrence of this phenomena (Bhutta ZA, Ahmed T, Black RE, Cousens S, Dewey K, Giugliani, et al, 2008 and WHO, 2013), the researchers warn on the need to implement public policies that promote and improve maternal and child services in order to change this scenario, since healthy eating in infancy has repercussions on the population’s health profile. Study authors state that children who are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life are less likely to develop chronic noncommunicable diseases in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

In this regard, health professionals play an important role while counseling families about food in the first year of life, reinforcing the advantage of breast milk and discouraging the introduction of other types of milk; in addition, they are fundamental when it comes to emphasizing the importance of proper introduction of complementary feeding.

Abeshu MA, Lelisa A, Geleta B. Complementary feeding: review of recommendations, feeding practices, and adequacy of homemade complementary food preparations in developing countries – lessons from Ethiopia. Front Nutr. 2016;3:41.

Bhutta ZA, Ahmed T, Black RE, Cousens S, Dewey K, Giugliani, et al. What works? Interventions for maternal and child undernutrition and survival. Lancet. 2008;371(9610):417-40.

World Health Organization. Essential nutrition actions: improving maternal, newborn, infant and young child health and nutrition. Geneva: WHO; 2013.

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