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Lifespan Nutrition During Childhood and Adolescence

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Infant and toddler years, from birth to age three, are included in early childhood. Children begin school during the final years of childhood, which span the ages of four to eight. When a person is a kid or adolescent, important physiological and emotional changes occur at various times during this stage of life. Children have more nuanced ideas and opinions regarding eating. They start learning about dietary preferences not only from family members but also from their peers and the wider community.

The decisions parents make for their children’s diet also matter a lot. During this period of a child’s development, parents and other caregivers have the chance to reinforce healthy eating practices and introduce new foods to the diet while still being sensitive to a child’s preferences. Since kids frequently imitate their parents’ behaviour and eating habits, parents should also serve as positive role models for their kids. Parents must continue to support the development of good eating habits and attitudes about food in their school-aged children and adolescents. Their main responsibility is to provide a wide selection of foods that are healthy for your health so that your kids may make wise decisions.

Childhood

After infancy, a child’s nutritional demands change. School-aged children grow steadily from four to eight years old, albeit more slowly than babies and toddlers. At around age six or seven, they also go through the process of losing their deciduous, or “baby,” teeth and getting their first permanent teeth. Many children have some malocclusion, or malposition, of their teeth as new teeth erupt, which might impair their capacity to chew food. Peer pressure and the types of foods given at schools and after-school programs, which can account for a large portion of a child’s diet, are other developments that have an impact on nutrition

For young children, food-related issues can include malnutrition, dietary allergies, and dental damage. Additionally, early-life obesity can persist into adolescence and maturity. A balanced diet supports physical and mental growth during this period of life and aids in maintaining well-being. The average growth rate for children in school-age groups is 2-3 inches (5-7 centimetres) in height and 4.5–6.5 pounds (2–3 kilograms) in weight every year. Additionally, the extremities grow more quickly than the trunk, giving the body more adult-like proportions. Long-bone development stretches muscles and ligaments, which causes many kids to experience “growing pains”, especially at night.

Energy

Depending on their size and amount of physical activity, children have different energy requirements. The gender difference in energy needs is another factor. Boys need 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day, and depending on their level of activity, girls between the ages of four and eight may need even more. Additionally, compared to dietary requirements during adulthood, recommended intakes of macronutrients and the majority of micronutrients are higher related to body size. Therefore, at meal and snack times, kids should be given nutrient-dense food. However, it’s crucial to avoid overfeeding kids as this might result in childhood obesity.

Macronutrients

The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbs is 45–65 percent of daily calories (which is a recommended daily allowance of 135–195 grams for 1,200 daily calories). The majority of your consumption should consist of fibre-rich carbohydrates. Protein’s AMDR ranges from 10 to 30 percent of daily calories (30–90 grams for 1,200 daily calories). Protein is essential for growing and developing muscles in children. To maintain growth, substantial concentrations of essential fatty acids are required (although not as high as in infancy and the toddler years). The AMDR for fat is therefore 25–35% of daily calories (33–47 grams for 1,200 daily calories). Each day, kids should consume 17–25 grams of fibre. 

Micronutrients

Foods should be used to satisfy micronutrient needs first. To make sure that nutritional needs are addressed, parents and other caregivers should choose a range of foods from each food group. Children need foods high in iron since they grow quickly, such as lean meats, beans, fish, chicken, and iron-enriched cereals. Fluoride levels must be adequate to promote healthy teeth. Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake during childhood is one of the most crucial micronutrient requirements. To develop dense bones and a sturdy skeleton, both are necessary. A daily dosage of 10 micrograms (400 international units) of vitamin D should be provided to children who don’t get enough of it naturally. There will be some variances between male and female micronutrient needs as we advance through the various stages of the human life cycle.

Factors Influencing Intake

Children’s eating patterns and attitudes about food can be influenced by a variety of circumstances. The emotions that children develop in regard to their nutrition are influenced by a variety of factors, including the family environment, societal trends, taste preferences, and media messaging. Children may be persuaded by television advertisements to eat salty fast food, fatty fast food, and products with added sugar. Parents and other adults who care for children must therefore strongly encourage them to make good decisions. Making meals and snacks enjoyable and fascinating for kids is one method to encourage them to eat nutritious foods

Children should be included in the planning and preparation of meals, such as helping to choose items while grocery shopping or preparing a dish like a salad. Parents can also teach kids about kitchen safety at this time. Cut meats, pancakes, and sandwiches into intriguing or manageable shapes. Parents should also serve healthy sweets like fresh fruit rather than calorie-dense cookies, cakes, salty snacks, and ice cream. Additionally, research indicates that kids who regularly participate in family dinners eat more nutrient-dense foods.

Food Allergies and Food Intolerance

As was earlier discussed, toddler years are a concern for the emergence of food allergies. Children of school age continue to struggle with this. Three million kids under the age of 18 have food allergies, according to recent studies. The most often consumed allergic foods include shellfish, milk, soy, wheat, and peanuts. A dietary protein causes an immunological reaction that releases antibodies, histamine, and other defences that target foreign substances, leading to an allergy. Itchy skin, hives, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, and nausea are all potential symptoms. After consuming an allergen-containing item, symptoms typically appear minutes to hours later. 

Food allergies in children, particularly those to soy, wheat, milk, or eggs, can be overcome. A potentially fatal reaction known as anaphylaxis causes breathing problems, throat and mouth swelling, low blood pressure, shock, and even death. The foods that cause this kind of reaction most frequently include those that contain milk, eggs, wheat, soybeans, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. When someone experiences anaphylactic shock, they are frequently treated with an injection of the medication epinephrine using a “pen.” Food intolerance, which doesn’t entail an immunological response, affects some kids. Unpleasant symptoms that follow the consumption of specific foods are indicative of food intolerance. 

One example is lactose intolerance, which is uncommon in very young children. Children who have this syndrome react poorly to milk products that include lactose. It is brought on by the small intestine’s failure to produce enough lactase, an enzyme that is created there. Bloating, abdominal pain, gas, nausea, and diarrhoea are common GI tract symptoms of lactose intolerance. The easiest way to handle an intolerance is to adjust your diet and stay away from any items that make you react.

The Threat of Lead Toxicity 

Children who are in school are at risk for lead toxicity or lead poisoning. Older homes’ plumbing, lead-based paint, and occasionally even the soil contain lead. Food and water contamination can heighten exposure and raise dangerous lead levels in the blood. Children under the age of six are particularly at risk. They might eat lead-contaminated things like chipped, lead-based paint. Lead dust in carpets from paint flaking off of walls is another common exposure. Children risk harm when they roll around or play on lead-coated carpets. 

Once ingested, lead cannot be altered or eliminated by the body since it is irreversible. Before any symptoms appear, it can quietly accumulate in the body for months or even years. Lead poisoning can harm the brain and central nervous system, impairing judgment, logic, and perception.

Lead must be removed from the body and the child must be taken away from the source of contamination as part of the treatment for lead poisoning. Chelation therapy, which binds lead so it can be eliminated in urine, may be used during extraction. A different course of treatment called EDTA therapy involves giving individuals with blood lead levels higher than 45 mcg/dL a medication called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. Thankfully, lead intoxication is largely avoidable. Prior to children being exposed to them, possible risks like lead paint and pipes must be identified and removed. Stay tuned for our next article on nutrition during adolescence. Our Human Nutrition & Dietetics course covers this and more in detail.

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