Determining Factors and Critical Periods in the Formation of Eating Habits: Results from the Habeat Project

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Abstract

Background: Eating habits form early during childhood and are likely to track until the beginning of adulthood. Thus, understanding the formation of eating habits is important. Consequently, the population targeted in the European project Habeat comprised infants and young children up to 6 years of age. Summary: Habeat mainly focused on the qualitative dimension of eating habits with a particular attention on vegetables and to a lesser extent on fruit. Food intake of young children was also studied in 2 challenging situations where overeating may occur and the relation between children's behaviour and feeding parental practices was examined. Key Messages: Habeat found evidence that breastfeeding may facilitate the consumption of vegetables and fruit and a greater variety of healthy foods in later childhood. Introduction of a variety of vegetables at the beginning of the complementary feeding period increases later acceptance of novel foods. Repeated exposure is a powerful mechanism to increase children's intake of a novel vegetable in infants and young children. Offering energy-dense snacks before or after meals should be avoided. Moreover, food should be offered to children in response to their feelings of hunger, and not used as reward for a good behaviour or for any other reason.

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