Parents now have an extra reason to say no to lollies, cake and ice cream for young children.
The first US government dietary guidelines for infants and toddlers recommend feeding only breast milk for at least six months and no added sugar for children under age two.
The advice goes much further than that issued for Australian parents and caregivers, with guidelines simply recommending added sugar intake be limited to decrease the risk of weight gain — without any explicit advice to ban sugar-laden foods and drinks for the very young.
“It’s never too early to start,” said Barbara Schneeman, a nutritionist at University of California, Davis. “You have to make every bite count in those early years.”
The US guidelines stop short of two key recommendations from scientists advising the government. Those advisers said in July that everyone should limit their added sugar intake to less than six per cent of calories and men should limit alcohol to one drink per day.
Instead, the guidelines stick with previous advice: limit added sugar to less than 10 per cent of calories per day after age two. And men should limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day, twice as much as advised for women.
“I don’t think we’re finished with alcohol,” said Schneeman, who chaired a committee advising the government on the guidelines. “There’s more we need to learn.”
The dietary guidelines are issued every five years by the Agriculture Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. The government uses them to set standards for school lunches and other programs.
A review of the Australian dietary guidelines is underway, however new recommendations are not expected to be released until 2024.
Kelly Kennington, Cancer Council WA’s obesity prevention manager, said while guidelines were helpful, government regulations about how foods for under-twos were marketed and packaged were just as important in order to help parents make healthy choices.
Ms Kennington said most people would be shocked at the amount of sugar and salt packed into products marketed for toddlers.
“It is really important children get a healthy start in life and diet can be one of those things,” she said.
The US guidelines recommend babies only breast milk at least until they reach six months.
If breast milk isn’t available, they should get iron-fortified infant formula during the first year. Babies should get supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth.
Babies can start eating other food at about 6 months and should be introduced to potential allergenic foods along with other foods.
“Introducing peanut-containing foods in the first year reduces the risk that an infant will develop a food allergy to peanuts,” the guidelines say.
There’s more advice than in prior guidelines for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
To promote healthy brain development in their babies, these women should eat 225 grams to 350 grams of seafood per week.
They should be sure to choose fish — such as cod, salmon, sardines and tilapia — with lower levels of mercury, which can harm children’s nervous systems.
Pregnant women should not drink alcohol, according to the guidelines, and breastfeeding women should be cautious. Caffeine in modest amounts appears safe and women can discuss that with their doctors.