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New research provides understanding of infant feeding in New Zealand

30 November 2018.

New research funded by the Ministry of Social Development’s Children and Families Research Fund has revealed for the first time whether families in New Zealand are meeting national food and nutrition guidelines when feeding infants under one year of age.

The report’s findings are based on data gathered from almost 6,500 of the families participating in the University of Auckland’s Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study.

“The Children and Families Research Fund supports researchers to access Growing Up in New Zealand data to undertake research that informs priority policy areas that meet the needs of New Zealand’s diverse population,” says Rob Hodgson, General Manager Insights MSD.

The Infant Feeding in New Zealand research, being released this week at the 2018 Nutrition Society of New Zealand conference in Auckland, was conducted by the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health. The research indicates some food and nutrition guidelines are being followed more strongly than others.

One of the report’s authors, Dr Sarah Gerritsen, says the research shows 80 percent of children were eating iron rich food at least once daily at nine months, and 86 percent and 84 percent respectively were not having any sugar or salt added to their meals or milk.

However, the research indicates low to moderate adherence to some guidelines, including breastfeeding guidelines for the first year of life and the introduction of solids at around six months of age. By nine months more than half of infants had tried foods high in sugar or salt, such as sweets, chocolate and chips, while only 37 percent were eating fruit twice or more daily and 33 percent eating vegetables twice or more daily.

“These foods can add excess energy, and influence ongoing taste preferences for foods and drinks that are high in sugar, salt and fat,” Dr Gerritsen says.

Dr Gerritsen says the research also considered the impact of various socio-demographic factors, such as education levels and ethnicity.

The Infant Feeding in New Zealand Report will help inform the Ministry of Health’s review of Food And Nutrition Guidelines For Healthy Infants And Toddlers Aged 0-2 years, which begins next year.


Background information:

The views and interpretations in funded research reports are those of the researcher(s) and are not the official position of the Ministry of Social Development.

The Ministry of Social Development funds Growing Up in New Zealand, and administers and funds the Children and Families Research Fund. Through the research fund, $750,000 is made available each year for policy-relevant research projects using Growing Up in New Zealand data. Read about the research fund here.

Growing Up in New Zealand is New Zealand’s largest longitudinal study of child development. The University of Auckland study is following a cohort of more than 6,800 children born in 2009 and 2010. Read about GUiNZ here.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers (Aged 0–2 years) were published in 2008 and are based on evidence which reflects the types of food and nutrition that supports health and development for this age group. More on the guidelines is available here.

Questions and answers:

What was the purpose of the research?

The research set out to understand:

  • What proportion of infants are fed according to the Infant Feeding Guidelines?
  • Does adherence to the Infant Feeding Guidelines correlate with different socio-demographic characteristics?

How was the Infant Feeding Report research carried out?

The researchers looked at data gathered by Growing Up in New Zealand for children at different ages (in pregnancy, six weeks, nine months and 31 months).

Thirteen indicators of infant feeding were described, and then combined into an Infant Feeding Index (IFI) which summarised adherence to the infant feeding guidelines over the first year of life. This gave each child a score out of 100, with 100 meaning all of the guidelines were followed.

  • The average score for infants on the IFI was 70 points
  • The scores ranged from 13.5 to 100 points.
  • A small number of infants (90 or 1.5 per cent) received a top score of 100 on the IFI.

What were the key findings of the research?

The research found that infants in the Growing Up in New Zealand study had high adherence (80 per cent adherence or more) to five of the 13 infant feeding indicators indicators, as follows:

Infant Feeding Guidelines with high adherence (80% or more)

  • Eating 3 or more solid meals a day at 9 months of age = 94% adherence
  • Only breastmilk and/or suitable formula milk given by the age of 9 months = 94% adherence
  • No sugar added to baby’s meals or milk at 9 months of age = 86% adherence
  • No salt added to baby’s meals or milk at 9 months of age = 84% adherence
  • Eating iron-rich food at least once daily at 9 months of age = 80% adherence.

Infant Feeding Guidelines with moderate adherence

  • Inappropriate drinks never tried at age of 9 months (coffee, cordials, juice, tea or soft drinks) = 61% adherence
  • Solid foods introduced around 6 months of age = 57% adherence
  • Eating across the four food groups daily at 9 months = 53% adherence.

Infant Feeding Guidelines with low adherence (less than 50%)

  • High salt/sugar/fat foods never tried at age of 9 months (sweets, chocolate, hot chips or potato crisps) = 47% adherence
  • Eating fruit twice or more daily at 9 months = 37% adherence
  • Breastfeeding duration to 12 months or beyond = 37% adherence
  • Exclusive breastfeeding duration to around 6 months = 35% adherence
  • Eating vegetables twice or more daily at 9 months = 33% adherence.

Media enquiries to:

For more information about the research and/or to speak with the report’s author:

Janine Kendall Communications Manager Growing Up in New Zealand 09 923 9750 0275 910 979

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