(HealthDay News) – Baby-led weaning though the use of finger foods, rather than continued spoon-feeding, promotes healthy food preferences in early childhood, according to a study published online Feb. 6 in BMJ Open.

Ellen Townsend, PhD, and Nicola J. Pitchford, DPhil, from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, analyzed survey results from 155 parents on toddler eating habits, including infant feeding and weaning style (baby-led or spoon-fed), children’s preference for 151 foods, (analyzed according to common food categories such as carbohydrates, proteins, and dairy), and exposure to food (frequency of consumption). To account for the effect of age on food preference, data were analyzed using a case-controlled matched sample.

The researchers found 92 parents reported using baby-led weaning methods and 63 reported spoon-feeding toddlers (age range, 20–78 months). The baby-led group demonstrated a significantly increased liking for carbohydrates, which were their most preferred foods, compared to a preference for sweet foods demonstrated by the spoon-fed group. Socially desirable responses or socioeconomic status did not influence reporting of preference and exposure, although an increased liking for vegetables correlated with higher socioeconomic status. There was an increased incidence of obese toddlers in the spoon-fed group and of underweight toddlers in the baby-led group. No difference in picky eating was found between the two weaning groups.

“Infants weaned through the baby-led approach learn to regulate their food intake in a manner which leads to a lower body mass index and a preference for healthy foods like carbohydrates,” the authors write.

The authors disclosed financial ties to Nutricia/Danone.

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