Rotorua Daily Post health and business reporter

Obesity may start very young

With almost one third of Kiwi children overweight or obese, the answer could lie in how children are fed in the first few years, according to a professor speaking in Rotorua.

Associate Professor Rachael Taylor - a researcher into early childhood obesity - is behind a study which could see major changes in the way babies are introduced to solid foods.

Mrs Taylor was in Rotorua yesterday speaking at a conference hosted by Agencies for Nutrition Action, a national body committed to improving nutrition and physical activity in New Zealand.

She said with almost one third of New Zealand children overweight or obese between the ages of two to four, they were looking at ways to address the problem even earlier.

"It's pretty hard to treat obesity so prevention is the way to go."

One of those is looking at whether the way babies are traditionally introduced to solids - by being spoon fed purees then mashed foods - takes away the babies ability to self-regulate and know when they're full.

Mrs Taylor is recruiting pregnant women for a study which will see the traditional method put up against the increasingly popular method of baby-led weaning where children are given finger foods and allowed to feed themselves.

She said the new approach was becoming popular yet there was very little evidence around whether it might help children with knowing when they are full.

Research showed babies on milk had quite good control of taking the nutrients they needed - yet that self control tended to end when it came to solids.

"I think it is quite interesting from the obesity point of view that it might encourage better energy self-regulation," she said.

The Bliss study will look at a modified form of baby-led weaning to address some of the concerns such as choking. She said the study, over two years, will also look at growth and iron levels as well.

Mrs Taylor said parents had an important role in helping children develop healthy eating habits.

"Studies show some parents adopt coercive behaviours when feeding their kids. They use it to reward good behaviour or take it away as a punishment," she said

"In this way, parents might be inadvertently using feeding practices that impair a child's ability to manage food."

Her biggest advice to parents was not to use food as a reward and not to turn it into a game.

She said it was important for parents to give them some control. The conference continues today.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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