Parents put a lot of thought and care into choosing (or making their own) baby food to ensure their child gets a healthy start on eating foods. But, once the child is a toddler, and asking for specific items, parents often opt for prepackaged foods that may not be the best option. In fact, a new government study indicates that many packaged meals and snacks for toddlers have sodium or sugar levels that can create a taste for foods that could create health problems farther on.
About 70 percent of toddler dinners studied by researchers contained too much salt. In addition, most breakfast pastries, cereal bars and snacks for toddlers studied had added sugars. The researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expressed concern that creating an early taste for sodium and sweetened foods could contribute to obesity and health problems down the road. They encouraged parents to read food labels carefully and make an effort to introduce more healthful choices to the toddler.
The study group noted that approximately one in four American children ages 2 to 5 are overweight or even obese. Almost 80 percent of kids between ages 1 and 3 exceed the levels of salt recommended for daily consumption.
So, the research team studied the nutritional data on package labels in 2012 for over 1,000 foods that are marketed specifically for older infants and toddlers. They focused primarily on sodium and sugar content.
As noted in the results outlined in the journal Pediatrics, more than half of the 79 mixed grains and fruit snacks for older infants that they looked at contained added sugar. In fact, one-third of the calories came from sugar in 35 of them. Toddler foods were even worse when it came to sodium. The team founds that 72 percent of toddler dinners contained at least 210 mg of sodium (about half of a day’s recommended amount). Those foods included vegetable items, wheat or whole grain-based crackers, sticks or puffs.
Blood pressure tracks from when children are young through adolescence and adulthood, noted the study’s lead author, Mary Cogswell. ‘‘One in nine children have blood pressure above the normal range for their age and that sodium … is related to increased blood pressure,’’ she added.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association of America issued a statement about the research, claiming that “the study does not accurately reflect the wide range of healthy choices available in today’s marketplace that parents can turn to.” They also commented, “It is based on 2012 data that does not reflect new products with reduced sodium levels.”
Parents might think that they are making healthy dietary choices for their children by purchasing and feeding them food specially made for their age group. But, establishing a fondness for foods that are sweet or salty is not a good idea.
The experts suggest that parents take the time to read food labels. If the processed fruit snacks contain too much added sugar, for example, serve apple slices or raisins instead. Parents need to look selectively at the food they offer a toddler to ensure that it will not establish habits that will create health problems decades down the line.
By Dyanne Weiss
San Francisco Gate