The Department of Health Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children 2011
survey, which examined the food and nutrition intake of 2,683 children aged four to 18 months between January and August 2011, found that 75 per cent of boys and 76 per cent of girls are consuming more calories than they need.
As well as this, babies aged 12-18 months are consuming 2.3g of salt which exceeds the recommended daily allowance of no more than 2g.
Infant formula was found to be the biggest contributor to children’s daily calorie intake for those under 12 months, and sodium intake for children aged four to nine months.
Despite the Department of Health (DoH) recommendation that mothers exclusively breastfeed for around the first six months of a child’s life, 22 per cent of the children surveyed had never been breastfed and of those that had, 57 per cent were not breastfed beyond three months of age.
Commercial baby food was another contributor to children’s daily calorie intake. Baby food contributed 13-17 per cent of younger children’s (aged four to 11 months) daily intake, compared to six per cent in children aged 12-18 months.
According to the figures, more than half (58 per cent) of children who had food other than milk had eaten a commercial baby or toddler meal and a fifth had eaten a commercially prepared adult ready meal.
The survey also found that children were being weaned earlier than is recommended. Rather than give children complementary foods at six months, the recommended age at which they should be introduced alongside breastfeeding and/or breast milk substitutes, ten per cent of children were given complementary foods before the age of three months and 75 per cent before five months.
Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, said, 'Weaning children too early can cause problems as they are unable to digest food and it makes children more inclined to make eating a main occupation.
'Life is getting tougher for a lot of parents, some of whom are are searching desperately for food to give their children, so there will inevitably be a horrendous amount of mistakes.
'People are poorly educated about food and don't understand how to read food labels. It's particularly tough for parents on lower incomes, who are short on knowledge, time and money.'
Mr Fry added, 'Children don't burn off the calories as a lot of them are dumped in buggies.' Previous research has shown that 25 per cent of children are obese by the time they start school.
'As more parents fall below the breadline the quality of food they buy will decrease, and the cheaper the food the more fat and salt it contains. There is still a huge amount of work to be done.'