DENVER — Caregivers need more guidance and support to improve the transition from feeding their babies to meeting the unique nutrition and feeding needs of a toddler or preschooler, according to the Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS). The study was released Oct. 18 at the American Dietetic Association’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Denver.

The study’s data show infants are being breastfed longer than in 2002 when Gerber Products Co., now part of Nestle, first commissioned the FITS. Also, fewer infants and toddlers are consuming sweets and sweetened beverages on a given day than they were in 2002. For example, among children age 12 months to 14 months, 14% drank a sweetened beverage on a given day in 2008 compared with 29% in 2002.

For less-positive news, about 25% of older infants, toddlers and preschoolers do not eat a single serving of fruit on a given day, and 30% do not eat a single serving of vegetables. These findings were similar to FITS 2002 findings.

Saturated fat and sodium consumption are two other areas of concern. About 75% of preschoolers are consuming too much saturated fat. Seventy-one per cent of toddlers and 84% of preschoolers consume more sodium than recommended on a single day.

"The 2008 FITS data shows us that more feeding guidance is needed during the transition to table foods," said Nancy Butte, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. "We are seeing eating patterns in toddlers and preschoolers that mirror those of adults — 24% of children ages 2 to 5 are overweight or obese in the United States. We need to put more focus on establishing healthy eating patterns during the first four years."

The 2008 Nestle FITS collected data from a sample of 3,378 children up to age 4. Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm based in Princeton, N.J., conducted the study on behalf of Nestle.