Researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences studied the eating patterns of American infants at 6 months and 12 months old, critical ages for the development of lifelong preferences.
The team found that dietary patterns of the children varied according to the racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds of their mothers.
For example, babies whose diet included more breastfeeding and solid foods that adhere to infant guidelines from international and pediatric organizations were associated with higher household income generally above USD 60,000 per year and mothers with higher educational levels ranging from some college to post-graduate education.
"We found that differences in dietary habits start very early," said Xiaozhong Wen, assistant professor in the UB Department of Pediatrics and lead author on the paper.
Studying the first solid foods that babies eat can provide insight into whether or not they will develop obesity later on, he explained.
"Dietary patterns are harder to change later if you ignore the first year, a critical period for the development of taste preferences and the establishment of eating habits," he said.
In the study, babies whose dietary pattern was high in sugar, fat and protein or high in dairy foods and regular cereals were associated with mothers whose highest education level was some or all of high school, who had low household income generally under USD 25,000/year and who were non-Hispanic African-Americans.
Both the higher sugar/fat/protein pattern and the higher dairy pattern resulted in faster gain in body mass index scores from ages 6 to 12 months for the babies.
Babies who consumed larger amounts of formula, indicating little or no breastfeeding, were associated with being born through emergency caesarean section and enrollment in the Special Supplemental Nutrition programme for Women and Infant Children (WIC).
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

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