Infants, Toddlers Should Not Restrict Fat Intake, Experts Say

Lung and Blood Institute, have made recommendations to limit dietary fat intake for individuals more than 2 years old. The federal government's 1995 Dietary Guidelines, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that fat intake be restricted in children beginning at age 2.

Watkins and Hennig, however, suggest that we should not restrict fat until 5 years of age, and then reduce it gradually throughout childhood and teen years. They say that limiting dietary fat to less than 30 percent of total calories in young children may reduce growth and lead to nutritional shortages.

The relative low-fat nature of infant formula is a special concern for these researchers. "Certain fatty acids are found only in human milk. They are not found in sufficient amounts in infant formulas," Hennig says. "The companies that make the formula should mimic human milk as closely as possible. These companies are aware, at least, that this is important, and they are working on this."

Watkins agrees with Hennig: "We don't know the essential fatty acids that are needed for bone and cartilage development. For example, omega-3 fatty acids are found in breast milk, but are not in infant formulas in this country. We know that these fatty acids are important for normal growth development and appear to have an increasing role in preventing disease later in life."

In addition to the need for fat in early development, Hennig says there is a theory that offers another reason infants should have comparatively high-fat diets: These diets may lower their cholesterol when they become adults.

"Blood cholesterol can come from diet, or we can produce it in our bodies through internal synthesis," Hennig says. "There may be a reason that human mother's milk is very high in fat. There is a provocative theory that high fat content in breast milk may suppress the enzyme that causes the body to synthesize cholestero

Contact: Steve Tally
Purdue University

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