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Parents Cautioned on Low-Fat Baby Diets

Times Staff Writer

America’s largest baby-food manufacturer warned weight-conscious parents Wednesday against carrying the lean diets of babies too far in attempts to keep them from growing up to become fat adults.

The Gerber Products Co. said that parents should not overly restrict fat in infant diets and should not give infants skim milk.

The company offered the cautionary advice as part of a campaign to counter a trend in which many parents, concerned about preventing obesity in their children, think that they should put infants on a lean diet. The advice is included in a new diet brochure for parents with babies under 2.

Babies need to be fed like babies, not like adults,” said Guy Johnson, Gerber’s director of infant nutrition.

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Should Be Half Fat

A major difference between adult and infant diet needs is that infant diets, until age 2, should be half fat. Although increasingly shunned by adults, fat is critical for normal infant growth and helps the body absorb a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, he said.

Based on reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics nutrition committee, the brochure lists seven recommendations on infant nutrition. Chief among them: Skim milk should not be given to babies below age 2. It recommends breast milk, whose caloric content is half fat. Second best is baby formula, whose fat and caloric content is close to that of breast milk.

When breast milk or baby formula is discontinued, whole cow milk should be used, the brochure recommends. “Reduced fat milks, especially skim milk, are not recommended for babies less than 2 years because they may not provide enough calories,” it says.

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Gerber, which controls 72% of the domestic baby food market, plans to distribute 1.3 million brochures next week to parents through nutritionists and pediatricians. It will mail free copies to anyone who calls the company’s toll-free telephone number.

Fill a Void

Gerber officials said that the project is intended to fill a void in diet information for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics praised Gerber’s information campaign. “I think it is a public service which will provide good and accurate information to parents,” said Dr. James E. Strain, the academy’s executive director.

Among the brochure’s other recommendations:

--Build a baby’s diet to accommodate a variety of foods. Most babies are ready to eat supplemental foods after four to six months and parents should introduce new foods one at a time, at intervals of a few days.

--Avoid high-fiber diets. High-fiber foods are often low in calories and nutrients that infants need.

--Use sugar-laced foods sparingly and avoid foods that contain sugar substitutes. Moderate amounts of sodium, found in many foods, is all right.

--Keep the diet high in iron. Infants are born with a four- to six-month supply of iron, after which iron must be supplied through foods in the diet.

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