The focus of this month’s IFAVA Newsletter is fruit and vegetable (FV) exposure in the early years. In the light of evidence that food preferences and consumption patterns are developed in early childhood, and that the typical diet of pre-schoolers is less than optimal, it is vital that interventions begin early.

Mary Kay Fox’s contribution sets the scene by describing the food consumption patterns of US two to three year olds. Using 24-hour dietary recall data from FITS (The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study), the food intake pattern of 1,461 toddlers was analysed and compared with dietary recommendations. Findings were mixed with some encouraging increases in whole milk, and whole-grain cereal consumption , but only 74% of children had eaten any fruit and only 71% had had any vegetables on the day of the survey with potatoes (including french fries) being the most commonly consumed. Clearly, there is considerable room for improvement in this age group.

Dr Coulthard’s article uses data from the longitudinal ALSPAC study to examine the impact of early introduction to fruit and vegetables during the weaning period on intake in later childhood. Whilst infants who were exposed to more home-cooked or raw FV at six months of age consumed more FV at seven years, the same effect was not observed in children fed ready-prepared FV. These findings highlight the need to target interventions at parents before they introduce their infants to solid foods.

Finally, Dr Lakkakula and colleagues investigated the impact on older children’s liking for vegetables of repeated taste exposure during school lunches. Ten weekly tastings resulted in increased liking in children who had previously indicated their dislike for the vegetables offered. That these techniques were effective in the real world setting of a school cafeteria, is especially encouraging.

Children’s diets remain a cause for concern, but high quality research is increasing our understanding of the problem and pointing the way to effective and age-appropriate interventions.

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