Nutrition: not all food is good food
The importance of adolescent childhood nutrition
Aside from infancy, children see the most brain and body development during adolescence (ages 9-19). This growth typically occurs from 8-13 in females and 10-15 for males. (Desiraju, 2022) During this time children will reach 84% of their total bone mass and may grow 6-8 inches. (McGuire & Beerman, 2018) At 20 years of age, “peak bone mass is achieved” further demonstrating the importance of childhood nutrition (McGuire & Beerman, 2018) Fortunately, only about 1% of American children suffer from chronic malnutrition thanks in large part to the availability of enriched and fortified foods. (John Hopkins Medicine , 2021) This is compared to the early 1920s when childhood malnutrition was a serious threat to public health.
The Current Problem
Despite such amazing gains in just a century, American children face a different threat caused by the abundance of cheap high-calorie foods and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. According to the CDC, empty calories (foods with little or no nutritional value) contribute to approximately 40% of children’s diets from 2-18. (CDC, 2021) Furthermore, according to the CDC, nine out of ten children in the US do not consume enough vegetables. (CDC, 2014) The combination of an abundance of cheap high-calorie foods and less active children has led to a large increase in youth and adolescent obesity, which is currently at 18.9% of children between the ages of 2-19 in the lowest income group. (CDC, 2022)
What can parents do?
Fortunately, there is a lot that parents can do to help children develop both good eating patterns and a positive self-image. For example, have your child help prepare the meal as they love to “help” and it allows them to become familiar with the foods they’re about to eat. This can be especially helpful with picky eaters. This will also start to build an invaluable life skill, cooking. Modeling healthy eating habits is also crucial. Parents should model a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Don’t be discouraged if your child does not like a particular food the first time. It can take as many as ten exposures before a child becomes comfortable with certain foods. (CDC, 2020)
Other Examples Are:
Avoid forcing children to finish everything on their plate.
Allow children to eat intuitively and finish eating when they are full instead. Otherwise, the child may grow into an adult that always finishes their plate, and with current portion sizes, this can lead to overeating.
Instead, try eating dinner as a family with no distractions. Distractions such as TV and other electronics can lead to overeating.
Promoting a body positive image for children
“Never associate self-worth with physical attributes” (McGuire & Beerman, 2018)
“Resist making comments about your own weight or body shape in front of children” (McGuire & Beerman, 2018)
“Never Criticize your child’s physical appearance” (McGuire & Beerman, 2018)
Instead focus on non-physical attributes such kindness, honesty, integrity, or any other family value that you hold dear.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, May 17). Childhood obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html#:~:text=For%20children%20and%20adolescents%20aged,to%2019%2Dyear%2Dolds.
“Children Eating More Fruit, but Fruit and Vegetable Intake Still Too Low.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 5, 2014. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0805-fruits-vegetables.html.
“Childhood Nutrition Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, February 15, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm.
Desiraju, M. (Ed.). (2022, June). Your child's growth (for parents) - nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. Retrieved June 26, 2022, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/childs-growth.html#:~:text=Kids%20actually%20tend%20to%20grow,to%2015%20years%20in%20boys.
McGuire, M., & Beerman, K. A. (2018). Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food (with Table of Food Composition Booklet) 3rd Edition. Cengage Learning .
“Picky Eaters and What to Do.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 17, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/picky- eaters.
10,000+ Free Nutrition & Food Images - Pixabay. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://pixabay.com/images/search/nutrition/
Health, C. (n.d.). How to get kids to eat vegetables. Children's Health. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.childrens.com/health-wellness/how-to-get-kids-to-eat-vegetables