BABIES as young as six months are being fed crisps, fizzy drinks and chocolate pudding -- leading to a spiral of obesity as they grow older.
Dieticians are now concerned at the level of high-calorie and high-fat snack foods being fed to young children even in their first year.
Dr Mary Flynn, chief specialist in public health nutrition with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, stresses that the first 1,000 days of a baby's life -- from birth to two years -- shapes the child's future health.
While breastfeeding up to six months is recommended as the 'gold standard', Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe.
Almost three-quarters of infants in this country are weaned off milk and on to solid foods too early.
Nutrition experts told an FSAI conference that the spiralling increases in childhood obesity have their origin in poor baby feeding practices.
A new guide, Best Practice For Infant Feeding, aimed at professionals was launched at the conference.
Dr Flynn highlighted the fact that illness like heart disease, diabetes and obesity may be partly caused by the "inadequacy of the mother's diet during pregnancy and how they were fed as babies".
She stressed the importance of breastfeeding and diet in the first year of life.
"How well humans grow and develop during this time can have far-reaching effects on health in childhood and throughout adult life," she added.
Dr Ita Saul, chair of the FSAI expert group which produced the new recommendations, said it was "not automatic" that parents would naturally know what foods provide the best nutrition for babies.
"We sometimes think that mothers instinctively know what to give their babies but they don't.
"So it is important that the information is there."
Latest figures for this country show that just over half of Irish mothers -- 56pc -- breastfeed compared with 81pc in the UK and more than 90pc in Scandinavian states.
The rate here drops to 20pc after three months -- a low level that Dr Saul described as "unique" to Ireland.
The paediatric dietician said there was growing awareness that babies and young children were "getting heavier".
"Its not only a medical issue. It has to come from the ground up. Mothers need to see other mothers breastfeeding", she added.