The researchers, two of whom are employed by Danone, set out to investigate the role of supplements, and young-child formulae (YCFs), which the European Food Safety Agency has stated have “no unique role” in providing critical nutrients to infants.
They used data from the Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children, a UK national survey conducted in 2011, selecting a sample of dietary information recorded across four days from 1,147 children aged 12-18 months.
More than 61% of the children consumed no YCFs or supplements, with 29.7% consuming YCFs but no supplements, 4.9% consuming supplements but no YCFs, and 3.7% consuming both YCFs and supplements.
Real diets rarely hit RVs
“Observed diets rarely reached the RV level for vitamin D (7.9%), fibre (20.6%), iron (28.2%), water (28.2%) and vitamin E (29.2%). For these nutrients and for most other nutrients, the percentage ranged significantly across groups. It was generally higher for children consuming YCFs and/or supplements,” the researchers wrote in their study published in Nutrients.
They found fewer than half the children had fat intakes within the recommended range, with intake mostly below the minimum. But 99.9% of children consumed sufficient protein.
The researchers then used these data to model ways in which the surveyed children could achieve nutritionally adequate diets. They created models for both repertoire foods – those recorded in the four-day food survey for each child – and all foods – those recorded in at least one survey included in the sample.
“When only repertoire-foods were allowed, achieving EFSA nutritional adequacy was almost impossible for children in the ‘no YCF, no Suppl’ group […] The percentage of feasibility in this group was 0.1% (only one child out of 707),” wrote the study’s authors.
“By contrast, feasibility reached 74.4% in the ‘YCF & Suppl’ group,” they added.
Removing vitamin D – “the least frequently attained RVs in the observed diets” – from the model boosted the feasibility of achieving an adequate diet among the ‘no YCF, no Suppl’ group to 40.8%, and to 86% among the ‘YCF & Suppl’ group.
YCFs and supplements in all diets
With the all-foods model – which would require children to broaden the range of foods they consumed – it was 100% feasible to create a nutritionally adequate diet for all subjects, but with an average increase in diet weight of 185 g per day.
Under this model, consumption of YCFs – sometimes known as follow-on milks or toddler's milks – and supplements increased, with all subjects modelled to need one or other of these, and 88% modelled to require both, as part of their optimised diets.
“We confirmed our hypothesis that the consumption of YCFs and/or supplements is not strictly necessary to ensure nutritional adequacy. However, it proved almost impossible to ensure nutritional adequacy without introducing either YCFs or supplements,” the authors noted.
“Increasing YCF and supplement consumption was found to be the shortest way to achieving European Food Safety Agency nutrient requirements for 12–18-month-old UK children. Besides increased YCF consumption, a simultaneous decrease in cow’s milk consumption was needed for most children to reach nutritional adequacy,” they added.
The researchers said their study confirmed EFSA’s view on the “unnecessary” nature of YCFs – but also showed that children did not consume relevant alternatives to provide necessary nutrients.
They noted their study has limitations, with this type of dietary modelling not having been applied to children before. They also noted the short period covered by the data.
Danone Research supported the research and employs authors Anne Lluch and Chloé Brouzes, who both drafted the initial manuscript.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3390/nu8090539
“Role of Young Child Formulae and Supplements to Ensure Nutritional Adequacy in U.K. Young Children”
Authors: Vieux, F.; Brouzes, C.M.C.; Maillot, M.; Briend, A.; Hankard, R.; Lluch, A.; and Darmon, N.