A STUDY among toddlers in Leeds has revealed that as many as six out of 10 are already hooked on sweets.
The survey, which was carried out among more than 2,000 parents, showed that nearly a quarter of parents were giving chocolate to their child before the age of 12 months.
The results add fuel to the fire of Britain’s burgeoning obesity epidemic, as the current number of overweight schoolchildren in the UK is already nearly two million, of which about 700,000 are obese.
Nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston said: “The dietary patterns we lay down from when we wean children may well have an impact on their future food choices and health.
“Chocolate and sweets are a key factor in obesity and they are not a necessary addition to babies and children’s diets. Occasional sweet foods are fine but foods with lots of added sugar such as chocolate should be avoided on a regular basis and ideally not offered at home where they can easily become part of daily habits.”
More than a third of parents in Leeds (34 per cent) let their baby taste chocolate before the age of nine months and more than half (58 per cent) gave their baby chocolate at the age of 12 months or younger.
Twenty-six per cent give their toddler a sweet treat every day.
The study, which was carried out by vitamins company Vitabiotics, also raised a number of other concerns among parents when it came to feeding their children.
More than half of parents surveyed said that their child was going through a fussy eating stage, with a quarter claiming they gave in to their child’s picky habits.
Psychologist Richard Woolfson said: “This result confirms that fussy eating is a common problem at this age, probably because this is the time when children begin to assert themselves by expressing specific eating preferences.
“The key way to deal with fussy eating is by not making a meal of it! In other words, stay calm and don’t over react. Allow a certain amount of time for the meal, and if your child is still playing around with his food after that, take it away and end mealtime. Don’t worry – he won’t starve.
“Rest assured that this phase usually passes. The danger is that if you start to make a big deal out of his fussy eating habits, he’ll quickly learn that picky eating is a great way to get your attention and you’ll find it even harder to encourage proper eating.”
Another of the problems identified by the study was that too many parents are adding salt to their children’s food, with nearly a quarter admitting to adding salt to their child’s food before they hit three years old.
Yvonne Bishop-Weston added: “Babies and young children need to avoid salty foods and added salt as their kidneys could become damaged as they are too immature to process it and developing a liking for salt could also contribute to future high blood pressure and developing the associated health problems.
“We need to avoid training babies palates to liking salty foods as this is likely to influence their future food preferences and choices.
“Babies and young children usually get all the salt they need from foods without adding extra. It is when they start to eat the same foods as the rest of the family that their salt intake increases the most.”
According to studies by the NHS National Statistics Survey in 2010, 26 per cent of adults were overweight, while the number among children was as high as three in 10.
Experts believe these problems stem from a lack of awareness among parents as to what to feed their children, and 93 per cent of parents believe there should be classes on feeding babies healthily.
For more information on what to feed your child and for a healthy lifestyle, visit www.nhs.uk/LiveWell.