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Many moms don’t remember well-child nutrition advice


Recent findings from a study examining mothers’ recall of doctors’ advice on early-child nutrition suggest that key feeding messages may not be heard, remembered, or even delivered.

During a typical child wellness visit, pediatricians provide parents with anticipatory guidance on all aspects of child development and safety, up to the age of 5 years.

The analysis of data from a subset of 1,302 mothers participating in the 2017-2019 National Survey of Family Growth showed that those older than 31 years of age and those who identified as non-Hispanic White were more likely to recall discussion of certain child nutrition topics compared with younger mothers or those who identified as Hispanic.

Of the six child-feeding topics referenced from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “Bright Futures Guidelines,” less than half of the mothers, all of whom had a child between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, recalled guidance on limiting meals in front of the television or other electronic devices. Similarly, fewer than 50% remembered being told not to force their child to finish a bottle or food, the analysis showed.

When it came to the best time to introduce solid foods, 37% didn’t recall being told to wait at least 4 months and preferably, 6 months. In fact, these mothers reported being advised to introduce solid foods before 6 months, said Andrea McGowan, MPH, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues.

The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

“All in all, this research draws attention to certain nutrition guidance topics or subpopulations that might be prioritized to improve receipt and recall of guidance,” said Ms. McGowan, now a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in a podcast. “This research ... implores us to consider ways to revamp the existing standard practice for pediatric well-child care to improve recall of messages.”

The analysis also included data on mothers’ recall of advice on offering foods with different tastes and textures; offering a variety of fruits and vegetables; and limiting added sugar. More than half of mothers remembered discussing four or five child nutrition topics, but 31% recalled talking about only one or two. Offering a variety of fruits and vegetables had the highest percentage of recall.

The study wasn’t powered to determine whether the nutrition guidance provided at a well-child visit was not remembered or not provided, Ms. McGowan said, adding: “So exploring this is definitely the goal of future research.”

However, pediatricians report spending an average of 18 minutes with children and their parents, she noted. “This is definitely not enough time to cover every single topic a pediatrician or a parent might want to discuss.” Other barriers, such as a lack of insurance or transportation, may limit parents’ access to this kind of anticipatory guidance, the researchers said.

Priority should be given to certain topics and to certain mothers, they suggested. “Innovative strategies tailored to families’ needs might alleviate the HCP [health care provider] burden and could enhance parental recall, especially when messaging is culturally relevant and personalized,” Ms. McGowan said.

Two independent experts agreed in interviews. Pediatricians must do their best to tailor advice to each particular family so that parents can engage in the conversation, said Lauren Fiechtner, MD, director of the center for pediatric nutrition at Mass General for Children, Boston. “As the authors suggest, we should seek to understand the cultural relevance of our recommendations and to understand the barriers our patient families might face in implementing our advice,” said Dr. Fiechtner, who is also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, also in Boston.

“Much of the instructions we as pediatricians give to parents must be repeated and reinforced,” said Rebecca S. Fisk, MD, a pediatrician at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, in New York. Often, the doctor’s advice runs counter to what family and friends recommend, she pointed out. Some parents may believe that “the baby who starts solid food earlier will sleep through the night earlier or that eating in front of the TV relaxes the child or allows them to eat more,” Dr. Fisk explained. In her practice, a nurse goes over her instructions, answers questions, and provides specific examples and written information.

Sometimes, even that’s not enough, Dr. Fisk admitted. “I, myself, have fielded many repeated questions about feeding, when to start, how much to give, and so on, despite printed guidance given to parents at well-child visits.”

This study was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ms. McGowan and study coauthors reported having no potential conflicts of interest. Dr. Fiechtner and Dr. Fisk disclosed having no potential conflicts of interest.

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