Assistant professor Mary Chong, from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS, shared findings from the GUSTO (Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes) study, Singapore’s largest and most comprehensive birth cohort study.
The study, conducted by the National University Health System, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and A*STAR’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, followed 1,200 pregnant women from 2009, regularly monitoring their pregnancies and subsequently, their babies’ growth and development.
Less than ideal
The researchers behind the study observed several areas of concern in terms of the children’s diets.
This included 33% of the children had food items added to their milk, leading to excessive caloric intake. 73.5% of the children were also given sweetened drinks and fruit juices, resulting in high sugar consumption.
At the same time, over 32% of the children were still fed blended food after 12 months of age, when they should have been started on textured food. This was pinpointed as a possible cause of increased feeding difficulty risk later in life.
Chong, (who is also principal investigator at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences and Clinical Nutrition Research Centre at A*STAR Singapore), added that children below four months old who were fed solids faced a higher risk of obesity later in their childhood.
She also said that dietary salt intake before the age of six months led to increased risk of hypertension and high blood pressure.
The effects of substitution
Chong also spoke about how excessive protein intake could affect children’s obesity risk.
For instance, lowering fat intake in favour of higher protein intake led to an increase in BMI, while upping carbohydrate intake in place of lower fat or protein intake saw no significant change in BMI.
Formula-fed infants were found to have higher protein and carbohydrate intake and lower fat intake than breastfed infants.
The ‘sensitive period’
Chong referred to the first two years postpartum as the ‘sensitive period’, saying that “developmental influences can have long-term consequences”.
She added that the earlier healthy dietary habits were introduced, the less likely children would become obese, as eating habits get increasingly difficult to change with age.