Sources of energy and nutrients in the diets of infants and toddlers

Mary Kay Fox, Kathleen Reidy, Timothy Novak, Paula Ziegler
Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2006, 106 (1 Suppl 1): S28-42

OBJECTIVE: To identify major sources of energy and 24 nutrients and dietary constituents in the diets of US infants and toddlers and to describe shifts in major nutrient sources as children age.

DESIGN: Data from 24-hour recalls collected in the 2002 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study were analyzed to determine the percentage contribution of foods and supplements to total intakes of energy, nutrients, and other dietary constituents. A total of 3,586 unique foods and dietary supplements were reported. Reported foods and supplements were classified into 71 groups based on similarities in nutrient content and use. Nine-hundred seventy-nine food mixtures were disaggregated into their ingredients and ingredients were classified into one of the 71 groups using the same decision rules that guided classification of foods analyzed at the whole food level.

SUBJECTS/SETTING: A national random sample of 3,022 US infants and toddlers 4 to 24 months of age.

STATISTICAL ANALYSES PERFORMED: The population proportion formula was used to determine the percentage contribution of each of the 71 groups to total intakes. This was done by summing the weighted amount of a given nutrient provided by a given group for all individuals in the sample and dividing by the total weighted amount of that nutrient consumed by all individuals from all foods and supplements. Groups that provided at least 1% of the nutrient in question were rank-ordered. Separate tabulations were prepared for three age groups (4-5 months, 6-11 months, and 12-24 months).

RESULTS: Infant formula, breast milk, and milk are major contributors of energy and most nutrients in the diets of infants and toddlers. Among toddlers, juices and fruit-flavored drinks are the second and third most important sources of energy. Fortified foods make substantial contributions to intakes of many essential nutrients, and these contributions increase as children age. For example, among toddlers, fortified grain-based foods make substantial contributions to intakes of vitamin A, iron, and folate, relative to foods that are naturally rich in these nutrients. Supplements also make substantial contributions to intakes of vitamins and selected minerals, particularly among toddlers.

CONCLUSIONS: In assessing dietary intakes of infants and toddlers, dietetics professionals need to carefully consider contributions of fortified foods and supplements. Dietetics professionals should educate caregivers of infants and toddlers about the importance of foods (rather than just nutrients) in promoting health and about the importance of early feeding practices in the development of lifelong eating habits. Caregivers should be encouraged to avoid relying on fortified foods and supplements to meet nutrient needs and educated about the potential risk of excessive intakes. Caregivers of toddlers and infants over 4 to 6 months of age who are consuming solid foods should be encouraged to feed a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as foods naturally rich in iron.

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