Avoid feeding babies food with added sugar to lower risk of obesity, new US advisory suggests

Avoid feeding babies food with added sugar to lower risk of obesity, new US advisory suggests
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Targeting childhood obesity in the US, an expert committee has come up with a measure to address the issue — a healthy diet minus added sugars. The recommendations for infants under the age of two are based on the current evidence on nutrition and health. Added sugars are sugars added to foods or beverages during preparation. Examples include regular soft drinks, sugars, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit drinks, dairy desserts such as ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk. This is different from naturally occurring sugars such as those present in fruits and milk.

"A healthy diet during these life stages is essential to support healthy growth and development during infancy and childhood and to promote health and prevent chronic disease through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood," the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wrote in their guidelines. In addition to contributing to long-term health, they also play a crucial role in influencing taste preferences and food choices, they added. 

Early food choices have a bearing on current and long-term health. Obesity prevalence is rising among children as well, leaving experts concerned. "The risk of chronic disease begins early in life, with important health consequences for the fetus based on the dietary intake of the mother and subsequent feeding behaviors in infancy and early childhood," they said.

Currently, more than 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese. An unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity have made them susceptible to diet-related health complications such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. According to the expert committee, six in 10 Americans have a chronic condition and four in 10 have two or more chronic conditions. These diseases put people at a higher risk of developing severe Covid-19.

The committee sent their recommendations to the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The data will feed into the final version of 2020 to 2025 dietary guidelines, which are designed to help Americans adopt a healthy diet.

What should expectant mothers eat?

A healthy diet before and during pregnancy may lower the risk of gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and preterm birth, evidence showed. The experts recommend seafood as it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The nutrient may reduce the risk of developing hypertensive disorders and preterm birth. It may also boost mental abilities, language and communication in children.

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The committee advises up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood — that are lower in methylmercury and higher in omega-3 fatty acids — per week for pregnant women. Alternatively, the nutrient can be taken as supplements, according to the limited evidence available on the topic.

Diet for infants from 0 to 24 months

Breast milk is likely to reduce the risk of obesity, type 1 diabetes and asthma. "Evidence also suggested that a longer duration of any breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes and asthma, although the optimal duration of breastfeeding with respect to these outcomes is not well understood," the committee said. During the first six months, infants need to eat foods containing iron and zinc. Eggs and peanuts can be introduced after four months of age.

Added sugars, which increase the risk of obesity, do nothing to meet nutritional demands. Instead, they contribute approximately 30%, 50% and 60% of added sugars to the diet of young children, adolescents and adults, respectively.

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The average intake of added sugars for Americans aged one year and older accounts for 13% of daily energy intake, which exceeds the recommended limits. "Nearly 70 percent of added sugars intake comes from five food categories: sweetened beverages, desserts, and sweet snacks, coffee and tea (with their additions), candy and sugars, and breakfast cereals and bars," they said.

"Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars during the first 2 years of life," the committee urged. "The energy in such products is likely to displace energy from nutrient-dense foods, increasing the risk of nutrient inadequacies," they said. The experts recommend food rich in iron or zinc for children in the age bracket of 6 months and a year. "Providing sufficient iron — from foods, supplements, or fortified foods — is important for reducing iron-deficiency anemia and its consequences, including impaired neurobehavioral development," they wrote.

Commenting on the recommendations, nutrition researcher Marion Nestle, told CNN: "This is an impressive, solid, conservative review of the existing science highly consistent with previous Dietary Guidelines but with mostly stronger recommendations."

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