New Data Shows Alarming Dietary Patterns Developing As Early As 12-24 Months
(FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey) – October 3, 2011 – Today, the latest findings from the landmark Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) were presented at The Obesity Society’s annual scientific meeting in Orlando.  In the U.S., 10 percent of young children aged 2 to 5 are categorized as obese*. The Nestlé FITS data reveals that, as early as 12 to 24 months, children are beginning to develop some unhealthy dietary patterns that may contribute to childhood obesity. Two and 3 year olds are falling short of the USDA MyPlate and AHA/AAP Dietary Guidelines for Children.  In particular, young children do not consume enough vegetables or whole grains and they consume far too many calories from solid fats and added sugar.
“We’re seeing poor eating habits starting early in life, and they mirror those of older children and adults. Parents and caregivers need to know that eating patterns are set early – between 12 to 24 months. It’s crucial to establish the foundation for healthy diets early in life when eating habits and food preferences are being formed,” said Dr. Kathleen Reidy, DrPH, RD, Head, Nutrition Science, Nestlé Infant Nutrition. “The new findings show how simple changes can make significant improvements in children’s diets.”
The new data from Nestlé FITS provides us with insights about the evolution of children’s diets, from birth through preschool, including sources of calories, key nutrients and snacking patterns. Highlights include:
  • At 12 – 24 months, a diet low in fruits and veggies and high in sweets and saturated fats begins to develop. This pattern is established by 24 months, continues through the preschool years and mimics some of the unhealthy eating habits seen in older children and adults.
  • By age 4, fruits and vegetables make up a small portion of the diet, about 5 percent of calories, and more than 15 percent of calories consumed are from sweets.
  • Most preschoolers are still consuming whole or 2 percent milk, which accounts for about 30 percent of the saturated fat in their diets. And, on a given day, 75 percent of preschoolers are consuming too much saturated fat.
  • Beginning at 12 months, one-third of calories comes from between-meal eating occasions, and, on a given day, snacks contribute about 30 percent of calories among preschoolers, so these choices need to be nutritious.
  • Cookies, candy and crackers are the most popular snacks among toddlers and preschoolers, with snacks becoming less nutritious as children age.
  • Simple dietary changes can lead to important improvements in the quality of children’s diets.
  • FITS findings illustrate that parents and caregivers need better nutrition guidance as young children transition through the second year of life to help develop healthy eating habits.
    • Snacks should be considered mini-meals and parents and caregivers should offer healthy foods that contribute nutrition to a child’s diet, such as fruits, vegetables, low fat yogurt and dairy and whole grain foods.
    • Instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, offer water.
    • At age 2, children should drink 1 percent or skim milk, in place of whole or 2 percent milk.
    • Other foods high in saturated fat such as cheese and high fat meats like hot dogs and bacon should be limited.  Replace with foods lower in saturated fat such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low fat dairy foods. Children also need healthier fats from foods like avocado and fish, and foods made with canola, safflower and olive oils.
“We are all responsible for the health of future generations, and it is much easier to establish good habits when children are young than to try to correct poor habits later,” said Dr. Jose Saavedra, M.D., FAAP, Medical Director, Nestlé Nutrition. “Parents need consistent messages about how to feed young children in a healthy way.  If we can help educate parents on the big impact of relatively simple dietary changes, we may be able to help prevent obesity and chronic disease in our children.”
About Nestlé Feeding Infants & Toddlers Study
Nestlé FITS, first initiated in 2002, is the largest and most comprehensive dietary intake survey of parents and caregivers of young children. FITS was expanded in 2008 and examined whether the eating habits of young American children had changed, in comparison to 2002 data.  FITS 2008 also includes preschoolers and is the first study of such magnitude – more than 3,200 children.  The study provides information and insights on the diets and eating habits of infants, toddlers and preschoolers living in the United States. Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, conducted the study on behalf of Nestlé.
About Nestlé Nutrition and Gerber
Nestlé Nutrition, part of Nestlé S.A., a world leader in nutrition, health and wellness, is dedicated to infant, healthcare and performance nutrition, and weight management. Gerber Products Company, founded in 1928, officially joined the Nestlé family on September 1, 2007. Nestlé and Gerber’s combined resources and scientific research expertise have enabled the company to become a worldwide leader in early childhood nutrition. Gerber produces more than 200 food products, all of which are part of its proprietary Start Healthy, Stay Healthy™ integrated nutrition system. Start Healthy, Stay Healthy™ combines products, educational resources and services that are designed to encourage the early establishment of healthy eating habits in children from birth to preschool.
For more information on Nestlé Nutrition, visit; for more information on Gerber, visit
About Mathematica
Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J., Ann Arbor, Mich., Cambridge, Mass., Chicago, Ill., Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of health care, education, international, disability, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

*Ogden et. al., CDC/NCHS June 2010

Subscribe to News Alerts