Science - February 9, 2012

Toddlers constipated by snacks and sweets

A Western diet increases the risk of constipation in toddlers. This is the result of a Wageningen nutrition study among a large group of Rotterdam children.

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'This study involved very young children, aged around fourteen months,' says Jeanne de Vries, university lecturer in Human Nutrition. 'Which is why the parents filled in the questionnaires.' They were given a list of foods such as children's biscuits, pots of vegetables and other toddler foods, says De Vries. 'Of course there is no alcohol on the list and there are also some differences in the vegetables. You won't see Brussels sprouts or Belgian endive.'
In their analyses, the researchers discovered two different eating patterns in their test group. There was the 'health awareness' pattern, where children eat lots of vegetables, fish and fruit, and there was the 'Western' pattern, characterised by the consumption of snacks, fizzy drinks and sweets. The Western diet turned out to increase the risk of constipation. This relationship remained even after adjustment for the extent to which the children exercised, their BMI and a number of health factors for the mother. The results will be appearing this month in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition.
Research on children's diet is particularly relevant now, says De Vries. 'We are seeing a lot of bad eating habits and obesity among children and we would like to know how you can change that behaviour effectively.' De Vries herself is busy with a project that focuses on parents of school-aged children. They could set an example and get the little ones imitating their behaviour. 'If it doesn't work through the parents, then we have a second project to see whether you can get children used to the rather bitter taste of vegetables at a younger age.'

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