A new study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that declines in dietary quality begin as early as 1 year of age, especially among those in households with lower education levels and incomes less than the poverty level.

Experts agree that establishing healthy dietary patterns early in life may have lasting impacts on health. Yet, there is a well-established trend of declining dietary quality among children over 2 years of age, adolescents, and adults. However, a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that this decline may begin as early as 1 year of age, especially among those with less access to healthy diets as a result of households with lower education levels and incomes less than the poverty level.

Based on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011 2016 dietary data, researchers Heather Hamner and Latetia Moore (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) assessed dietary quality of children 6 months to 4 years of age.  Using a modified Diet Quality Index Score, a recently developed assessment tool for children < 2 years of age, dietary intakes of 2,675 children 6 months to 4 years of age were analyzed. Modified Diet Quality Index Scores were based on subcomponents that included milk, whole grains, refined grains, proteins, vegetables, whole fruits, fruit juices, sugar-sweetened beverages, other added sugars, and salty snacks.

On average, children between 6 and 11 months of age scored 62% of total possible points; whereas children between 1 and 4 years of age scored between 46%53% of total points.  Higher scores for milk, whole grains, and whole fruits were observed among children living in households with higher education levels, higher income, and poverty higher index ratio. Modified dietary quality index scores also varied by race.

Study results suggest declines in dietary quality begin as early as 1 year of age, and that dietary quality scores varied by sociodemographic factors. Furthermore, the modified Diet Quality Index Score provides a useful tool to assess dietary quality of young children and can help direct programmatic and policy efforts aimed at establishing and maintaining healthy dietary patterns beginning at an early age. To help ensure children establish and maintain a healthy dietary patterns, families and caregivers should prioritize healthy eating beginning at an early age.

Reference. Hamner H and Moore LV. Dietary quality among children from 6 months to 4 years, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2016. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz261

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