Children and teens aren’t getting enough key nutrients in their everyday diets, including important vitamins and minerals, according to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal. This, combined with poor eating habits among kids, is causing both immediate issues, like poor school performance, and long-term health problems down the road.
“When children don't get enough nutrients in their everyday diet, it can stunt physical growth, delay developmental milestones and hinder learning and performance in school,” said Sara Falk, LDN, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and client engagement coordinator for Baptist Health’s Employer Wellness Solution, PATH (Personalized Approach to Health).
Additionally, children who eat poorly are more susceptible to suffering from future long-term health issues like cardiovascular disease, and are more likely to be diagnosed as underweight or obese.
Eat well, feel better
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 19% of kids ages 2 to 19 are obese, which puts them at risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. However, a healthy diet, along with adequate physical activity and sleep, can help.
“Childhood eating disorders, both anorexia and binge-eating, are on the rise, and doctors aren't entirely sure what causes them,” said Falk. “However, poor body image and cultural idealization of ‘thinness’ could be contributing factors.”
In recent years, more kids and teens are following diet trends and using fitness apps, leading them into a potentially dangerous cycle of undereating and/or overeating. Diets that eliminate certain food groups – often meant for adults – make it difficult for adolescents to consume the recommended amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates, meaning they miss out on the necessary nutrients their developing body needs.
During the pandemic, eating patterns have also worsened. Doctors are seeing a rise in kids who are eating too much and gaining weight because they are bored, or those who are stressed out and eating too little, ultimately losing weight at a dangerous rate.
While there are a variety of nutrients vital to growth and development, calcium, vitamin D and iron are especially important.
Dump the junk
Adolescents may have a low intake of key nutrients due to our culture’s on-the-go lifestyle. Instead of home-cooked meals, parents may choose fast-food alternatives to feed their families. While convenient, these items are high in calories, sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats that can lead to obesity in both children and adults. And it’s not just food; According to the CDC, six in 10 children and five in 10 adults consume a sugary drink on any given day.
Children pick up eating and drinking patterns from their parents, so adults need to make smarter, healthier choices within their household. After all, these habits will follow kids into their adulthood.
On the other hand, if parents are concerned about their kid’s food choices while at school, they can reach out to school administration about providing healthier options in the cafeteria and vending machines.
Kids in the kitchen
To make sure children are getting their daily intake of nutrients, parents or caregivers should incorporate all food groups into meals throughout the week.
“Parents can help their children eat healthier by being good role models and leading by example,” said Falk. “After all, healthy eating starts at home!”
Falk shared five ways parents can help children hit nutritional goals:
Get children involved with cooking. Try doing something simple, like making "ants on a log" together. You can pack it in their lunch for the next day, and make sure to remind them to eat it during the busy school day.
Let kids pick out their fruits or vegetables in the store. Letting them play a role in meal planning goes a long way. You could ask, "Do you want to have carrots or broccoli tonight?"
Introduce one new food at a time. Place the new item on a plate with foods they are familiar with and enjoy.
Let kids "play" with their food. Children feel and smell their food before they taste it. Try having them dip their fruits and vegetables in sauces as a mealtime activity.
Disguise fruits and vegetables in meals. For example, try hiding butternut squash in macaroni and cheese.
It’s important to make sure your children are getting the proper nutrition they need for their bodies to grow and develop. If you're struggling with getting your child the recommended intake of nutrients, please contact his or her pediatrician. Additionally, Baptist Health has several Healthy Living Centers, offering wellness coaching and programs to the public that parents and caregivers can benefit from. Healthy starts at home! For more details, call 904.202.4890