Early Life Protein Intake: Food Sources, Correlates, and Tracking Across the First 5 Years of Life

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Aug;117(8):1188-1197.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2017.03.016. Epub 2017 May 17.


Background: High consumption of protein has been associated with accelerated growth and adiposity in early childhood.

Objective: To describe intake, food sources, correlates, and tracking of protein in young children.

Design: Secondary analysis of Melbourne Infant Feeding Activity and Nutrition Trial (InFANT). Dietary data were collected using three 24-hour dietary recalls at ages 9 and 18 months as well as 3.5 and 5 years.

Participants/setting: First-time mothers and their child (n=542) participated in an 18-month intervention to prevent childhood obesity and the cohort was followed-up with no intervention when children were aged 3.5 and 5 years.

Main outcome measures: Protein intake, food sources, correlates, and tracking of protein.

Statistical analyses performed: Child and maternal correlates of protein intake were identified using linear regression and tracking of protein intake was examined using Pearson correlations of residualized protein scores between time points.

Results: Mean protein (grams per day) intake was 29.7±11.0, 46.3±11.5, 54.2±13.8, and 60.0±14.8 at 9 and 18 months and 3.5 and 5 years, respectively. Protein intakes at all ages were two to three times greater than age-appropriate Australian recommendations. The primary source of protein at 9 months was breast/formula milk. At later ages, the principal sources were milk/milk products, breads/cereals, and meat/meat products. Earlier breastfeeding cessation, earlier introduction of solids, high dairy milk consumption (≥500 mL), and high maternal education were significant predictors of high protein intake at various times (P<0.05). Slight tracking was found for protein intakes at 9 months, 18 months, and 5 years (r=0.16 to 0.21; P<0.01).

Conclusions: This study provides unique insights into food sources and correlates of young children's high protein intakes, and confirms that early protein intakes track slightly up to age 5 years. These finding have potential to inform nutrition interventions and strategies to address high protein intakes and protein-related obesity risk.

Keywords: Child; Food sources; Infant; Protein intakes; Tracking.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Bread
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Edible Grain
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances
  • Vegetables


  • Dietary Proteins