The Nourish Study at Queensland University of Technology and Flinders University is led by Professor Lynne Daniels and Dr Anthea Magarey. It is designed to evaluate the influence of early positive feeding practices on food preferences and dietary intake in very young children. There is emerging evidence linking parenting style to early feeding practices which in turn influence child feeding behaviour and weight status. Early child eating patterns and behaviours lay the foundation for eating habits for life.
Current feeding practices evolved in a time of food scarcity while today, the major issue is food excess. This has influenced how we encourage babies to eat and may have a major impact on the risk of obesity in later life.
There are 5 key themes:
- Learning to Like; Liking to Eat
Fear of new food is a normal response by babies, but is readily modified by experience. Familiarity with a food by repeated exposure increases its acceptance. A food may need to be offered 10 times or more for baby to learn to like it.
Encouraging repeated exposure to a wide variety of healthy foods like vegetables and fruits is important. As is, limiting exposure to foods high in sugar, salt and fat, to help shape food preference for the healthier foods.
- Parent Provide; Child Decide
Babies have an innate ability to self-regulate food intake based on their appetite and energy needs. Parent concerns about whether their baby is eating enough, encourages the practice of coercion or use of food as a reward hence over-riding this innate control.
Helping mother’s recognise signs of satiety and responding to the baby’s needs by accepting that they have had enough is a key theme for NOURISH. Parents ideally decide what and when to eat, but enable the baby to decide IF they will eat, and how much.
- Early Feeding Habits Track to Adulthood
Feeding preferences and behaviour learned in early childhood do track to adult food preferences and behaviour. The importance of learning to enjoy healthy foods cannot be underestimated.
- Set a Good Example
Babies model their parents’ behaviour. A child who watches his parents enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods is likely to learn to do so as well.
- The Relationship Between Parent and Child is Important.
An authoritative parenting style that sets limits but is also responsive to the child’s cues and skills is associated with better feeding outcomes than an authoritarian style that is over-worried or over-controlling and less warm or responsive to child cues.
Developing confidence in parents around feeding and behaviour is a critical component of the NOURISH intervention.
Funding for NOURISH has been provided by the NHMRC. Heinz is providing sponsorship for a Post- Doctoral Fellow for 4 years to support research in early feeding at QUT including this important study.
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