Infant nutrition and immune function continue to be key global concerns. Science, technology and product development have come a long way, but research suggests more progress can be made to improve infant wellness.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plays an important role in cell signaling and immune function. A supply of DHA is essential for fetal and infant growth, brain and visual development, and cognitive function.
Epidemiological studies consistently reported higher intakes of DHA were associated with a reduction in the risk of developing allergic and atopic disease in infants at high risk for these conditions. Studies adding DHA (and arachidonic acid, or ARA) to formula, or mothers supplementing with DHA, demonstrated improvement in many markers of immune development. The findings suggested that increasing the amount of DHA in the infant’s diet during suckling—through supplementing the mothers with DHA—improved immune maturation and the development of oral tolerance (prevention of an over-reactive allergic response).
In addition, milk formula is the largest and fastest-growing category within packaged food, at US$14 billion in absolute terms, during 2010 to 2015; a reflection of the increasing number of mothers looking for convenience.
Milk formula companies rely on nutritional science to try to mimic breast milk composition. Most of the leading brands focus on developments within probiotics, prebiotics and fat components.
With working mothers and women increasingly assuming the head of the household position, convenience is important. Companies are responding by developing new products to address this demand—from milk formula pods mimicking coffee pods to individually-wrapped, single-serving milk formula in liquid or solid cube formats.
Functional foods may also be important to the health of infants and young children, particularly to prevent and treat intestinal infections. Acute gastroenteritis is a worldwide problem. It is extremely frequent in childhood and is associated with frequent hospital admissions, high costs and death. Probiotics may be used in the treatment of acute gastroenteritis in adjunct to oral rehydration solution to reduce the duration and intensity of symptoms. Different guidelines worldwide show that LGG and Saccharomyces boulardii have the strongest proof of efficacy. Selected functional foods show compelling efficacy in the prevention and treatment of specific intestinal infections in children, and others will come.
For more information, download the Vitafoods Insights Report “Infant Health: Nutrition as Foundation.”