Dietary patterns and their changes in early childhood

Cent Eur J Public Health. 2012 Jun;20(2):126-34. doi: 10.21101/cejph.a3703.


Background: Early childhood is a critical period for shaping and influencing feeding behaviours which have implications for future health. Understanding the food consumption patterns and their shifts over time can provide guidance to health care providers and nutrition specialists who provide nutrition counselling and develop nutrition messages.

Objectives: To examine feeding patterns of 1-5 year old children and their changes with age.

Methods: Across-sectional questionnaire study designed to obtain information on basic demographic indicators and feeding habits was conducted in Prague and all 13 regions of the Czech Republic. The carers of 1,130 children aged 1 to 5 years were approached in public places. Obtained data were computerized, descriptive statistics and t-tests for food intake frequency by age, breast-feeding status, sex, maternal education, and domicile were calculated. The difference was considered significant when P value was < 0.05.

Results: The median duration of breast-feeding of children not breast-fed at the time of the interview was 9 months; 29.5% one-year olds were still breast-fed at the time of the interview. Median number of meals per day was 4 in 1 and 5 year olds and 5 in children 2 to 4 years old. The diet of one-year-olds, albeit with lower fruit and vegetable consumption and low fish consumption, was close to recommendations. The milk and milk products, fruit, vegetable, and poultry intake frequency significantly decreased with age. The meat and grains groups, smoked meat and meat products, sweets, and fried food intake frequency significantly increased with age. Fish consumption remained low. Higher vegetable intake frequency was associated with breast-feeding, maternal education, and female sex. Higher fruit consumption was associated with breast-feeding and living in Prague. Higher meat group intake frequency was associated with male sex.

Conclusions: Our data confirm that the dietary habits are formed early in the life. Enhancement of multi-channel delivery of nutrition messages for feeding of toddlers and pre-schoolers and for the improvement of family eating habits are needed.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Czech Republic
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors