The earlier children are exposed to junk food, the greater the likelihood they'll be plagued with dangerous life-long health problems. Researchers from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences revealed how impressionable a mother's income and education level is on their baby's lifelong diets. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics, and raised some questions about how capable a parent is to raise a child if they're in a lower socioeconomic bracket.

“Dietary patterns are harder to change later if you ignore the first year, a critical period for the development of taste preferences and the establishment of eating habits,” said lead author Xiaozhong Wen, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the eating patterns of 1,555 infants between 6 and 12 months old, and found foreshadowing in what their mothers fed them. Parents in the low income and education brackets were more likely to feed their 6-month-old babies formula milk instead of breastfeeding them. When those same babies reached 12 months, their parents then fed them foods high in sugar, fat, and protein. On the other end, parents in higher income brackets with good educations followed the dietary guidelines provided by their doctors.

It may not seem too harmful to feed a growing baby cheap junk food, but what some parents don't realize is they're prepping their child's palate for the rest of their life. Formula fed babies are also missing out on all the natural antibodies that help a baby improve their immune system. Studies have found it raises a child's intelligence, cognitive function, and even reduces the risk of a child becoming overweight, developing type 2 diabetes, and asthma. “This is both an opportunity and a challenge,” Wen said. “We have an opportunity to start making dietary changes at the very beginning of life.”

The United States is currently trying to fight a rapidly spreading childhood obesity epidemic. Tackling this problem early is important because children can develop poor dietary habits within the first six months of their little lives. Children and adolescents who are obese are, unsurprisingly, likely to become obese adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With that diagnosis comes a slew of diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and stigmatization and poor self-esteem. By intervening early on in populations with lower income and education, children may be able to avoid the risks associated with a lower quality of life.

Source: Xiaozhong W, Kong KL, Eiden RD, Sharma NN, and Xie C. Sociodemographic Difference and Infant Dietary Patterns. Pediatrics. 2014.