Doctors in the U.K. are not given enough training in child nutrition which can play a major part in good health in adulthood, an expert warned.
Professor Alan Lucas, from University College London's Institute of Child Health, said the lack of medical training in pediatric nutrition was a serious problem.
Research has shown that how babies are fed in the early months of life can influence their risk of heart disease later. In addition, the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity means that nutritional advice to parents is also important, Lucas said.
Now, the U.K.'s first stand-alone center for pediatric nutrition is being created at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London. Lucas has led the fundraising efforts for the center, which is now close to its 250,000-pound ($438,000) initial target.
The expert led a rally of 140 Harley Davidson motorbikes from East Anglia to London to signal the success of the fundraising campaign.
Nutrition is recognized as vital in aspects of health including heart disease risk, obesity, diabetes, bone health and brain development.
Lucas said that childhood nutrition now needed to be developed as an independent area of practice.
"Medical training in this area is deficient in the U.K. and the United States. This is a serious problem," he said.
"Most parents want and need nutritional advice, and there is great concern about obesity.
"But there is also informed concern about how nutrition and growth in early life affects long-term health, such as risks of heart attack, and mental ability."
Lucas said that "slow-grown" babies -- infants who are fed to gain weight gradually -- appeared to have lower risks of heart disease and diabetes in later life.
"Feeding in the first few weeks appears significantly to affect adult health.
"New research is changing our ideas, and this must be accurately conveyed to parents."
Lucas also said that almost every sick baby in neonatal intensive care had crucial nutritional problems.
This means that the way they are handled can have a profound effect on their health in later life, emphasizing the need for high-quality practice, he said.
"Many patients on children's wards have nutritional difficulties, and the way these are handled affect the patients' outcome.
"To take one example, the way children respond to kidney failure is profoundly influenced by the specialized way they are nourished.
"The same is true for recovery after surgery, metabolic disease or serious intestinal disorders," Lucas said.
The expert's unit at the Institute of Child Health has led key research into the benefits of breastfeeding on child and adult health.
This unit will work closely with the new Paediatric Nutrition Centre, which Lucas hopes will lead to a recognized separate medical discipline.
He pointed out that a child with a heart condition sent to 100 Western hospitals would receive a fairly consistent treatment plan.
However, a child with a nutritional problem sent to the same hospitals would face a wide range of treatment options.
"This lack of a consistent standard of practice in nutrition is an important challenge for the new unit," Lucas said.