The Importance of Early Nutrition

A good diet in early years is crucial to maintaining good health later on. Babies grow at an extremely fast pace and require a large amount of energy and nutrients to develop healthily. Good eating habits in childhood stay with babies as they mature.

The Early Nutrition Programming Project brings together leading scientists and experts in the field of nutrition from major research centres across Europe to study the lifetime effects of good infant nutrition. The project will run for five years and will track participants through their early years and into adulthood to see whether differences in childhood persist into adulthood.

BSNA believes that ensuring good nutrition in infancy is key to promoting healthy lifestyles and improving overall health outcomes.

Research on Weaning

In this section we examine the advice on when to begin weaning infants onto solid food.  We also cover information on allergies, the importance of good early nutrition and how infant food manufacturers meet the nutritional needs of babies and toddlers.

baby being spoon fed

Age of weaning – an ongoing debate?

In 2003, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published advice in partnership with the chidren's charity UNICEF recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months and that weaning or complementary feeding should be delayed until six months of age.  The UK’s Department of Health adopted this recommendation and so have some EU States but the majority have not.

Nearly ten years on, the evidence behind the recommendation has been reviewed in some detail and many scientists recommend that since each baby is unique, a single recommendation to wean at six months may not be appropriate. 

We have collated the various views on weaning age here (pdf 655kb).

Process of weaning

The attached article by Dr Gillian Harris gives practical advice on how to cope with difficult eating behaviour in toddlers. The article can be read here (pdf60kb). This has been extracted from the Infant and Toddler Forum's paper - The Forgotten Years - A practical approach to overcoming deficiencies in the toddler diet.  The full document can be downloaded here.

Allergies and weaning

Around 6% of children in the UK will develop food allergies and these can vary in severity from mild to life threatening.  Ongoing research is investigating whether early diet (either inclusion or avoidance of specific foods) can have an impact on the later development of food allergy.

Further information on the recommendations for the introduction of allergenic foods and the research into weaning and allergies can be found here (pdf 65hkb).

Specialist Foods for Weaning

Specialist foods for weaning and beyond are specially tailored for babies and toddlers up to the age of three years.  They are nutritionally balanced and undergo extensive quality control throughout the production process to meet the highest standards of quality and safety.

Baby foods are specifically tailored for children less than three years old to meet their nutritional needs.  They provide appropriate and essential amounts of key nutrients and energy, with added vitamins and minerals where necessary which may include iron, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D, carefully controlled levels of salt and sugar and no artificial additives.

The ingredients used in infant foods are specifically grown and sourced via specific farmer contracts because safety standards for infant foods are higher than for general food production. Everything from the seeds used to grow the crops, to the animals used for meat and dairy products are chosen specifically for baby and toddler food.

Baby foods are governed by strict legislation contained in the EU ‘Processed cereal-based foods and baby foods’ Directive within the legislation for Foods for Particular Nutritional Uses (PARNUTs).  The legislation sets out detailed rules on composition, including criteria on the levels of energy and nutrients permitted, such as protein, carbohydrate, and fat, as well as labelling rules for foods for children less than three years of age.