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Kiwi infants lacking in fruit and vege intake

Young single mother bottle feed a two months old baby boy while sitting on the bed.
Young single mother bottle feed a two months old baby boy while sitting on the bed. Image: Supplied.

Infant Feeding in New Zealand is the first study of its kind investigating adherence to a wide range of infant feeding practices recommended by the Ministry of Health for under one year olds.

The University of Auckland researchers set out to discover the proportion of infants being fed according to the national food and nutrition guidelines for infant children and if adherence has any association with socio-demographic characteristics.

The research uses data from the Growing Up in New Zealand study, New Zealand’s largest longitudinal study of contemporary child development.

The work was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and will contribute to the 2019 review of Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers.

The Ministry of Social Development funds Growing Up in New Zealand and administers and funds the Children and Families Research Fund, which funded this research. Through the research fund, $750,000 is made available each year for policy-relevant research projects using Growing Up in New Zealand data.

Findings:

  • The research found that infants had high adherence (80 percent or more) to five of the 13 infant feeding indicators considered in the study. Examples of the indicators include: eating across all four food groups daily at nine months old and introducing solid foods around six months of age.
  • Using an Infant Feeding Index, the study found that the average adherence to the guidelines was 70 points (out of a possible top score of 100).
  • It was found 86 percent and 84 percent of mothers respectively were not adding any sugar or salt to their child’s meals or milk, and 80 percent of children were eating iron rich foods at least once daily at nine months.
  • Low rates of adherence to some of the individual infant feeding indicators point to the continued importance of promoting breastfeeding to a year or beyond as well as the introduction of solid food at around six months.
  • The study supports continued messaging about the importance of vegetables and fruit in an infant’s diet (only 33 percent of infants had vegetables twice a day and 37 percent ate fruit twice a day at nine months of age) and avoidance of foods and drinks with a high sugar, fat or salt content, such as cordial and juice, chippies, sweets/lollies, chocolate or iced biscuits (half of the infants by nine months of age had consumed these foods and drinks).
  • Socio-demographic factors, such as education and ethnicity, were associated with the level of adherence to guidelines. Further research on how maternal and infant healthcare and community organisations could support families when it comes to feeding and nutrition in the first year is needed.

Source: Ministry of Social Development

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