Nutrition for the Very Young
What foods will keep tomorrow's kids strong and
healthy? Nutrition and health needs of America's childrenfrom conception
to adolescenceare targets of studies at ARS' Children's Nutrition Research Center at
Houston, Texas, and at ARS' Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little
Here are some of the top-priority investigations the scientists will
continue in the new decade.
The ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center has been part of ARS
since 1977 and is operated jointly with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas
Children's Hospital. Studies under way there include:
Nutrients and genes Scientists at the Houston center
are sleuthing differences in genetic makeup that may predispose kids to
nutrition disorders later on, like obesity or cardiovascular disease. The new
information should better equip tomorrow's healthcare professionals to
intervene with recommendations specific to children with underlying genetic
Nutrients and prenatal development Researchers aim
to discover more about maternal nutrition and permanent effects on a baby's
health that may be linked to its mother's diet and nutritional status from
about the time of conception through the pregnancy.
Nutrients for early growth and development
Scientists are investigating unique components of mother's milk that help keep
babies healthy. Too, the recent increase in multiple births of extremely
underweight, very premature infants has sparked new studies of the unique
nutrition needs of these unusually vulnerable babies.
Body weight and body composition Scientists expect
new experiments to reveal more about the genetic basis of childhood obesity and
factors in the school and home environment that influence a child's food habits
and choices. Their goals: new, more effective ways to combat childhood obesity
and reduce obesity-related disorders such as high blood pressure and
Plant nutrients Experiments by the center's plant
scientists may reveal how to coax tomorrow's spinach, peas, or green beans to
store more essential nutrients in forms kids can use. Today's spinach plants,
for example, hoard calcium in crystal forms that nourish the plant but are not
as biologically available to humans.
Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock became the sixth
ARS human nutrition research center in 1994 and is managed in cooperation with
the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute. Top-priority topics at the
Phytochemicals Scientists are investigating
often-healthful, plant-derived compounds called phytochemicals. They will
determine whether the phytochemicals that are bound to soybean protein lead to
developmental differences in children fed soy-based infant formulas, compared
to those raised on mother's milk or cow's milk. Some 15 to 20 percent of
America's babies are fed soy-based infant formulas.
Animal studies may indicate whether soy-fed infants have a lower risk of
developing chronic diseasessuch as cancerlater in life.
Brain function Scientists want to find out how
nutrition during infancy and childhood affects brain development and function,
especially the capacity to pay attention and to learn. Studies may reveal, for
example, how diet can benefit brain function in infants as young as 6
months.By Marcia Wood,
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS National Program (#107)
described on the World Wide Web at
Dennis M. Bier is director of the
USDA-ARS Children's Nutrition Research
Center, 1100 Bates St., Houston, TX 77030; phone (713) 798-7022, fax (713)
Thomas M. Badger is
director of the USDA-ARS
Nutrition Center, 1120 Marshall St., Little Rock, AR 72202; phone (501)
320-2785, fax (501) 320-2818.
"Nutrition for the Very Young" was published in the
December 1999 issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.