Researchers have examined the long-term outcomes of the INfant Feeding, Active play and NuTrition (INFANT), within Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), on children’s health behaviours.

Positive health behaviours established during infancy can be maintained up to school age, says Deakin University child health expert, Professor Kylie Hesketh.

INFANT is a group-based program to help families establish healthy lifestyle behaviours from the start of life and into the toddler years. Providing anticipatory guidance, the program is offered to parents when babies are three, six, nine and twelve months of age to support the journey of healthy child development.

This research involves assessing children at two key stages after the conclusion of INFANT: i) when children are aged around three and half years, and, ii) when children are aged five years.

Professor Hesketh, from IPAN, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research Excellence in Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood said the results showed evidence of sustained benefits of dietary intake and reduced screen time at five years. Indeed, for some health behaviours, the benefits were greater at follow-up than at conclusion of INFANT.

This study is the-first-of-its-kind to demonstrate sustained and additional positive outcomes for early childhood preventive health behaviour interventions. In contrast, previous studies typically report greatly diminished intervention once the intervention concludes.

Professor Hesketh explained that the real-world impact of the INFANT program can be showcased beyond infancy and into childhood.

“Some benefits of early intervention may take longer to become evident, and longer-term follow-up of early childhood inventions is critical to identify these,” said Professor Hesketh.

“Key strengths which may have contributed to the sustained benefit of the program is that INFANT focuses on peer support, practical strategies and teaches parents that strategies are malleable to different development stages.”

Her research could have significant public health implications given that only a small proportion of Australians meet national guidelines to increase fruit, vegetable and water intake, and reduce discretionary food intake and screen time.

Read the open-access research paper recently published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity here.

Professor Kylie Hesketh is a Principal Investigator of INFANT from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University.

She holds a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council. She is Deputy Director of the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in the Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood.