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Infant Nutrition: The first 1000 days and the long-term impact on health

22 February 2016  •  Author(s): Rosie Long, Nutrition Graduate, Nestlé UK

It has been recognised by health experts, that the first 1000 days – from conception to a child’s second birthday – is a critical window of opportunity to influence the future health outcomes1 . This critical period is the most influential time in a young child’s life, their behaviours and the nutrition they get in this time helps to set their future foundations for life and can have an impact on their health and happiness later in life2 .

Infant Nutrition: The first 1000 days and the long-term impact on health

Nutrition in this period is particularly crucial2,3. Early nutrition wields both short and long-term effects on the health of an infant, by programming the infant’s development4 . Evidence suggests that this ‘developmental programming’ has a long-lasting effect on the risk of obesity in later life, and in turn, associated non-communicable diseases; type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease5 .

Childhood obesity is an increasingly concerning topic; in 2013 it was estimated that over 42 million children under the age of five years worldwide were overweight or obese6 . The latest figures in the UK found that over a quarter of children aged 2-10 were overweight or obese7 . Overweight and obese children are likely to remain overweight or obese into adulthood, increasing their risks of developing non-communicable diseases at a younger age6 .

Importance of breastfeeding on infant nutrition

Global guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, and breastfeeding in combination with suitable, nutritionally balanced complementary foods beyond that8,9. Breastfeeding is undoubtedly the best method of infant feeding, not only because breast milk is nutritionally superior, but it also has unique advantages that are not possible to replicate with bottle-feeding10.

Research into the benefits of breastfeeding for both the infant and the mother, shows that these benefits are not due to the breast milk alone, but rather breastfeeding as a whole. Benefits for the mother include, but are not limited to, a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers11,12, and a strengthening of the emotional bond with their infant…

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