KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Infants from low-income families are eating solid foods at too early an age, University of Tennessee research shows.
Dr. Betty Carruth and Dr. Jean Skinner of UT-Knoxville’s Department of Nutrition compared infant feeding habits of about 60 low-income mothers aged 14-18 years to 60 others aged 22-28. They found that age made little difference in how mothers fed their children.
However, both groups started infants on foods other than breast milk or formula earlier than recommended by nutritionists, the study showed.
Carruth suggested introducing cereal to an infant’s diet at 4-6 months, gradually adding fruit and vegetables, and no meat until about nine months. Starting earlier can cause digestive problems and reduce the child’s appetite for breast milk or formula which are more nutritious, she said.
However, on average, teen mothers’ infants began eating cereal at two months, fruit at three months, vegetables at 3.8 months and meat at 4.7 months, the study showed.
Averages were about the same for infants of adult mothers, except they ate cereal at about three months.
“Feeding meat to infants who are not six months old is an undesirable practice,” Carruth said. “These mothers may not understand the importance of a good diet in the first year of life when rapid growth is occurring. They need more counseling about the food choices they make for their children.”
The study was funded by UT’s Agricultural Experiment Station. It was published recently in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
The UT scientists also are investigating infant feeding habits for mothers in middle- and upper-income groups, Carruth said. The results will be used to determine better ways to spread information about infant nutrition, she said.
Contact: Dr. Betty Carruth (423-974-6250) or Dr. Jean Skinner (423-974-6244)