Let Your Baby Lead the Way

Baby led weaning and finger foods may lead to healthier eating and reduced risk of obesity

(RxWiki News) Parents who opt to let their babies feed themselves with finger foods during baby-led weaning - rather than spoon-feeding them pureed food - may end up with healthier kids.

A recent small study revealed that kids who led their weaning preferred carbohydrates rather than the sweet foods preferred by the spoon-fed kids, who were also more often overweight than the baby-led group.

"Feed your child healthy meals from day one."

The study, by Ellen Townsend and Nicola Pitchford of the Department of Psychology at the University of Nottingham in the UK, is based on detailed questionnaires from parents of 155 children between 20 months old and six and a half years old.

The researchers asked about how children were weaned and their food preferences.

Kids who fed themselves finger foods numbered 92 in the study while the other 63 ate spoon-fed pureed food as they were weaned.

Carbohydrates ended up being kids' favorite food if they led the weaning process and ate finger foods.

These children were also usually the right weight for their age, height and gender based on their body mass index (BMI).

But the spoon-fed children preferred sweet foods even though they were offered carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, proteins and whole meals more often than the baby-led group.

The kids with the sweet tooth were also more often overweight than the first group even after researchers controlled for birthweight, the parents' weights and socioeconomic factors.

The only other preference difference found was that babies from a higher socioeconomic background tended to like vegetables more.

Neither group tended to be "pickier eaters" compared to one another.

The study results were not surprising, registered and licensed dietitian Angela Lemond told dailyRx.

Lemond was not involved with this study, but she specializes in pediatric nutrition and said dietitians have always promoted self-feeding as long as it's appropriate for a child's developmental abilities.

"This is key because you don't want to start too early," Lemond said. "If they are parent fed, it is important that mothers and father tune into a child's verbal and facial cues as signs of being full."

The research did not define what was considered a "sweet food" in this study, Lemond pointed out, but she said carbohydrates are supposed to make up the majority of a baby's or toddler's diet and should be favored more.

"But do keep in mind that milk, starchy veggies and fruit also contain carbohydrates necessary for growth," she added.

One possible explanation offered by the researchers about the difference in preferences between carbohydrates and sweets is that pureeing food doesn't allow kids to develop a sense of food textures.

But carbohydrates, such as toast, offer a more sensory experience, and previous research has shown that food presentation strongly affects food preferences.

"Our study suggests that baby-led weaning has a positive impact on the liking for foods that form the building blocks of healthy nutrition, such as carbohydrates," Townsend and Pitchford wrote.

The researchers concede that the self-reporting is a limitation of the study, but this is often the best option for studies about food preferences.

The small sample size also means more studies could be helpful in confirming these findings.

The study appears this month in the journal BMJ Open, which makes its articles freely to the public.

The study was funded by the University of Nottingham's Department of Psychology pump-priming grant

Both authors have received funding from Nutricia/Danone to support their PhD studies within the past five years.

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Review Date: 
February 5, 2012