The tool is the first to evaluate toddler's eating habits
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—A multi-institutional group of researchers from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and four other organizations, has developed the first ever Toddler Diet Quality Index (DQI) for toddlers. The innovative tool maps to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) and will serve as an important instrument for informing public health nutrition policies, programs, and practices for young children.
Ensuring adequate nutrition during early childhood is essential for young children’s achievement of their growth, health and developmental milestones. Now, for the first time since their initial publication in 1985, the 2020-2025 DGAs include recommendations for healthy dietary patterns for infants and toddlers under the age of 2.
“The toddler years are a time of transition, especially between 12 and 24 months, when these little ones are moving to table foods and experimenting with new tastes and textures from a variety of foods. The right nutrition during the toddler years sets in place a foundation for lifelong good health,” said Andrea Anater, Ph.D., a senior nutrition researcher at RTI and a co-author on the study. "Our index is the first to provide a tool for assessing how well toddlers are meeting recommended practices.”
The team applied the Toddler DQI to data from the 2016 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, led by RTI, which was the largest and most comprehensive dietary intake study of young children in the U.S. Their findings support implementing nutrition messages that aim to increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and seafood, while reducing consumption of added sugars.
The researchers emphasized that toddlers who were breastfed, lived in households with higher incomes and who were Hispanic ranked higher on the Toddler DQI. In the findings, they report differences in diet quality by race and ethnicity — even among this age group.
“We want caregivers to recognize that for our youngest, the message of ‘every bite counts’ is emphasized in the guidelines,” said lead author Melissa Kay, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and researcher at Duke Global Health Institute. “Toddlers have unique nutritional needs during this rapid and critical period of growth.”
The researchers say that interventions should focus on supporting parents and caregivers in modeling healthy eating behaviors and involve children, as much as possible, in food purchasing choices and preparation to foster positive eating habits they will maintain into adulthood.
The study, which was published in Nutrients - MDPI, an open-access journal, consisted of researchers from Duke University’s Global Health Institute, University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and Nestlé Research.
To read the full study, click here.