Researchers at the University of Southampton are embarking on a four-year investigation into how diet in the first year of life influences growth and development.
The study, which is being funded by a £340,000 award from the Food Standards Agency, is led by Dr Sian Robinson of the Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit at the University, and will draw upon information from the pioneering Southampton Women's Survey (SWS).
Since 1998 information about diet and lifestyle has been collected from 12,500 women in the SWS. By the end of 2003, almost 2,000 of these women had had babies. The growth of these babies is measured when they are 6 and 12 months old, and details of the milk and solid foods they are eating are collected.
The project will enable the researchers to analyse the SWS dietary data for all babies born before the end of 2003. This will provide information on contemporary infant feeding practice and dietary patterns that is not available anywhere else in the UK. Some of the SWS children will also be followed up at the age of four to examine their growth, the strength of their bones and other aspects of development, and to see how these are affected by diet in infancy.
'We know that diet in the first few months of life is very important,' said Dr Robinson.'We can now analyse what babies are eating in a very large population of children and look at how this affects growth and development. This will help us to draw up some guidelines to best practice.'
The SWS team hopes to continue its work by studying the diet of older children as the youngsters recruited through the SWS grow older. This may unlock some of the secrets of the link between early life and later health.