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Children’s eating and lifestyle habits

Mother and child chopping vegetables in the kitchen

Children can maintain healthy eating and lifestyle habits throughout their lives if they’re established early. That’s why we’re working to expand our understanding of children’s diets around the world, and using our research findings to inform our products and services.


Why research children’s nutrition?


In many parts of the world, children’s diets don’t meet dietary guidelines and recommendations. Some are drinking too many sweetened beverages, missing out on certain vitamins and minerals, or eating inappropriate portion sizes. Others are even skipping meals altogether. And while we understand the benefits of a balanced diet, we appreciate that it’s not always easy to ensure children receive one.

We’ve worked in several locations trying to answer such questions as:

  • Why are some kids not getting enough fibre, calcium or iron?
  • What foods are contributing to excess intake of sugars and salt?
  • In which countries are children filling up on snacks?
  • What are some of their behaviour and lifestyle habits?
  • And what can we do to help address these issues?


Our studies


Each of our two major studies focuses on a life stage that is crucial in establishing dietary and lifestyle habits:

  • For the last 15 years, our Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) has explored the eating patterns and nutritional intake of children from birth to four years old. This is when they transition from an all-milk diet to foods consumed by the whole family.
  • Our efforts have since expanded to include the diets and lifestyle habits of children aged 4–12 through our Kids Nutrition and Health Study (KNHS).

Some collect new data via questionnaires and interviews with children and their primary caregivers. Others analyse information collected by local authorities through national nutrition surveys.

The studies are tailored to each location. Currently, these include the United States, Mexico, China, Russia, Australia, the Philippines, Brazil and the Middle East.

What we’ve learned

Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (0–4 years)


Mexico | China

61% of infants have an insufficient intake of iron and zinc

Map of USA, Mexico, Brazil and China

USA | Mexico | Brazil | China

Over half of pre-school children consume excessive levels of sodium, usually through salty snacks


USA | Mexico | China | Russia

Consumption of added sugar, sweetened beverages and sweets is high

China | USA | Mexico

China | USA | Mexico

Breastfeeding rates are still too low

Map of USA, Australia, Mexico and Brazil

USA | Australia | Mexico | Brazil

Increasing amount of daily energy consumed through snacking


USA | Mexico | Brazil | Russia

Many older infants are introduced to unmodified cow’s milk too early


USA | Mexico | China | Russia

Consumption of added sugar, sweetened beverages and sweets is high

Kids Nutrition and Health Study (4–13 years)

Map of USA, Australia and Mexico

USA | Australia | Mexico

One or two pre-teens out of every 10 skip lunch, and 17% of children in Mexico don’t eat breakfast

Map of USA, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, China and Russia

USA | Australia | Mexico | Brazil | China | Russia

Fruit and vegetable consumption is well below recommended levels

Map of USA, Australia, Mexico, Russia and Brazil

USA | Australia | Mexico | Russia | Brazil

Sugar, sodium and saturated fat levels are already a problem in childhood

Map of China, USA, Mexico and Brazil

China | USA | Mexico | Brazil

Fibre is one of the most commonly missing nutrients

Map of USA


Children have an inadequate intake of essential fats

Map of USA, Mexico, Brazil, China and Russia

USA | Mexico | Brazil | China | Russia

Children don’t consume enough calcium and/or vitamin D for optimal growth

Map of China, Brazil, Mexico and USA

China | Brazil | Mexico | USA

40–80% of children do not move enough

Brazil | Mexico | USA

Brazil | Mexico | USA

45–65% of children are known to spend too much time looking at screens

Using our findings


Lil Beanies

Improving products

The results from our studies give us a broader perspective on children’s nutritional challenges around the world. They also provide useful information about diets and behaviour in individual countries. These results inform product innovation and renovation, helping address nutritional gaps in specific countries.

For example:

In the United States:

  • The navy (haricot) beans in Lil’ Beanies make the snack suitable for young children not consuming enough vegetables, fibre and vitamin E.
NIDO FortiGrow

In Mexico:

  • We fortified our infant cereals to help infants achieve an adequate intake of iron and zinc; and
  • NIDO FortiGrow is a low-fat option for Mexican children, three-quarters of whom exceed the recommended intake of saturated fat.


Developing educational programmes

The results also inform our own educational initiatives, including the Nestlé Start Healthy Stay Healthy and Nestlé Healthy Kids programmes. These help caregivers, teachers and parents foster healthier behaviours in children, from the start of life to adolescence.

  • Our Nestlé Start Healthy Stay Healthy nutrition services translate the latest scientific findings into practical advice, helping parents understand what to feed, how to feed and why the first 1000 days are so crucial to their baby’s future health.
  • For children and adolescents, our large-scale grassroots and online programmes provide parents and caregivers with practical tools and solutions to help them raise healthier kids. In collaboration with over 300 partners worldwide, our school-dedicated module empowers teachers and children with nutrition education and promotes healthy lifestyles in the school environment.

Sharing knowledge

We publish our findings and share them with healthcare professionals and public health authorities. This informs the dialogues we have with all those concerned with improving children’s nutrition and health.

Browse published findings

Food groups consumed by infants and toddlers in urban areas of China.
Food & Nutrition Research, 2016

Perceptions of food intake and weight status among parents of picky eating infants and toddlers in China: A cross-sectional study.
Appetite, 2017; published online in 2016

Obesity, non-communicable disease (NCD) risk factors and dietary factors among Chinese school-aged children.
Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2016; published online 2015 (pdf, 900 Kb)

Snacking Is Longitudinally Associated with Declines in Body Mass Index z Scores for Overweight Children, but Increases for Underweight Children.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2016

Analysis of physical activity and sedentary behaviors in children and adolescents from 12 provinces/municipalities in China (in Chinese with English abstract).
Journal of Hygiene Research, accepted 2016

Do Chinese children get enough micronutrients?
Nutrients, 2017

Urban-rural disparities in energy intake and contribution of fat and animal source foods in Chinese children ages 4–17 years.
Nutrients, 2017 (pdf, 231 Kb)

Picky eating: Associations with child eating characteristics and food intake.
Appetite, 2016

Usual food intakes of 2- and 3-year old U.S. children are not consistent with dietary guidelines.
BMC Nutrition, 2016

Screen-based sedentary behavior and associations with functional strength in 6–15 year-old children in the United States.
BMC Public Health, 2016

Missing lunch is associated with lower intakes of micronutrients from foods and beverages among children and adolescents in the United States.
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016

Snacking among US children: patterns differ by time of day.
Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2016 (pdf, 205 Kb)

Early development of dietary patterns: transitions in the contribution of food groups to total energy – Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, 2008.
BMC Nutrition, 2017

Cross-sectional analysis of eating patterns and snacking in the US – Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study 2008.
Public Health Nutrition, 2017 (pdf, 908 Kb)

Protein and energy intakes are skewed toward the evening among children and adolescents in the United States: NHANES 2013–2014.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2017

Importance of Dietary Sources of Iron in Infants & Toddlers: Lessons from the FITS Study.
Nutrients, 2017

Beverage consumption patterns among infants and young children (0-47.9 months): data from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, 2016.
Nutrients, 2018

Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016: findings and thoughts on the third data cycle.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

Food consumption patterns of infants and toddlers: findings from Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

WIC and non-WIC infants and children differ in usage of some WIC-provided foods.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

Location influences snacking behavior of US infants, toddlers and pre-school children.
BMC Public Health, 2018

Room for improvement remains in food consumption patterns of young children aged 2-4 years.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016: moving forward.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016: study design and methods.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

Total usual nutrient intakes of US children (under 48 months): findings from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

Usual nutrient intakes from the diets of US children by WIC participation and income: findings from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2018

Estimating usual intakes mainly affects the micronutrient distribution among infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers from the 2012 Mexican National Health and Nutrition Survey.
Public Health Nutrition, 2015

Early feeding patterns among Mexican babies: findings from the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Survey and implications for health and obesity prevention.
BMC Nutrition, 2016

Increased snacking and eating occasions are associated with higher energy intake among Mexican children aged 2–13 years.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2015

The contribution of at-home and away-from-home food to dietary intake among 2–13-year-old Mexican children.
Public Health Nutrition, 2016

Breakfast dietary patterns among Mexican children are related to total day diet quality.
The Journal of Nutrition, 2017

Food sources of energy and nutrients in infants, toddlers and young children from the Mexican National Health and Nutrition Survey 2012.
Nutrients, 2017 (pdf, 287 Kb)

Many infants and young children are not compliant with Mexican and international complementary feeding recommendations for milk and other beverages.
Nutrients, 2018 (pdf, 1 Mb)

Infants feeding practice in Russia (Federal State Statistics Service’s data analysis (Rosstat, 2013)).
Voprosy Detskoy Dietologii, 2017 [abstract in Russian only]

Dietary intakes in Russian children 3–19 years old.
Voprosy Pitaniya, 2017

The practice of feeding infants during the second and third years of life in Russia (analysis of the statistics of the Federal State Statistics Service Rosstat, 2013).
Pediatric Nutrition, 2017 (pdf, 402 Kb) [abstract in Russian only]

Dietary intake of calcium in pre-school and school children in Russia: main food sources and eating occasions.
Voprosy Pitaniya, 2018 (pdf, 382 Kb) [abstract in Russian only]

Identifying eating occasion-based opportunities to improve the overall diets of Australian adolescents.
Nutrients, 2017

Nutritional status and dietary intakes of children amid the nutrition transition: the case of the Eastern Meditteraean Region.
Nutrition Research, 2018 (pdf, 2 Mb)

Total and added sugar consumption: comparison of Mexico, China and US children.
Pediatric Obesity, 2017 (pdf, 100 Kb)