The importance of nutrition for kids
Childhood is developmentally critical, setting the stage for lifelong health and wellbeing. In early childhood the immune and neurological systems are still developing, requiring adequate nutritional support to fight disease, build brainpower and establish sensory functions such as eyesight. During their school years, children are gaining their permanent teeth, building bone density that will carry them through the rest of their lives and continuing to strengthen cognitive performance.
Our children, our future
Children are at risk for inadequate micronutrient intakes for many reasons including picky eating, skipping meals and eating too much junk food – just at the time when their needs are highest for nutrients to support their growth and development.
In today’s world, many foods deliver a high caloric load with comparatively few micronutrients and children’s eating patterns often favor these foods over more nutrient-dense choices. For example, it has been reported that fewer than 2% of US children and adolescents consume the recommended servings of fruit, vegetables, dairy and whole grain products.1
Studies of school aged children around the world, in both high and low-income countries, show that it is not uncommon for children to receive inadequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals through their diet.2 Sonia Hartunian-Sowa, PhD, CFS and Scientific Leader at DSM states “In the US, data collected from the NHANES has shown that more than 8 out of 10 children do not meet the recommended intake for vitamin D and vitamin E from diet alone. Additionally, it has been observed that deficiencies exist for vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus that are important for bone development.”3
The negative consequences of a diet with insufficient micronutrients may include compromised physical growth, mental development and immune function.4 In contrast, optimal nutrition throughout childhood fosters a foundation of well-being and helps individuals achieve their full physical and cognitive potential.
Social trends: effects of changing lifestyles
Today’s busy lifestyles have impacted the way that families eat together. Around 11% of US children eat dinner with their parents at a restaurant more than 3 times a week.5 Children are subjected to and swayed by a huge amount of advertising and marketing, and while mothers are still the family food gatekeepers, children have growing influence on food choices. A study by the US Institute of Medicine verified that advertising influences children to prefer and purchase high-calorie and low-nutrient foods and beverages.6
Nutrition in early childhood
As they grow, children need adequate nutrient supplies to support major physiological, psychological, immunological and cognitive developmental processes. Multivitamin/mineral supplementation may offer the best chance of reducing adverse health outcomes, because many nutrients act synergistically with each other and deficiencies of micronutrients often overlap.7 According to nutrition industry website www.brightest.com, providing proper nutrition to kids today can help fuel their bodies for future health. In fact, it is very important to consume enough vitamins and minerals as they play a particularly critical role during the first 1,000 days of development and throughout childhood.
Parents’ top health concerns for their children
According to a 2017 Global Health Survey conducted by Ipsos, parents of children 0-5 are most concerned about Immune Health (62%) and Eye Health (62%) with Digestive Health (60%) also ranking in the top 5. Looking at the 6-16 demographic, parents still rank Immune Health first (68%) with Fitness Levels (63%) and Eye Health (62%) also topping the charts.8 Marlena Hidlay, Marketing Manager of Early Life Nutrition at DSM North America, notes an increase in consumer awareness of nutrients that deliver benefits associated with immunity, eye health and digestive health.
Young children are more susceptible to disease and have more frequent infections than adults.4 Macronutrients and micronutrients are essential for building up an effective immune response. Children may be at risk of deficiency of nutrients that support immunity including vitamins A, C, D, B6, B12 and folate; the minerals iron, zinc and selenium; and omega-3 fatty acids.9
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) Omega-3 is highly concentrated in the eye and is crucial for the health of the retina. Vitamin A (or beta-carotene as a source of vitamin A) is essential for vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin protect against damage to the retina from glare and sunlight and may also protect from extensive blue light exposure.10
Cognition and mental health
Studies have shown that nutrition can enhance academic performance in school-aged children and help them reach their mental and cognitive potential.11 Micronutrients that play important roles in brain performance and learning include thiamin and vitamin B6, iron and DHA omega-3.12
Nutritional habits for maintaining a healthy weight begin in childhood. Adequate intakes of vitamins and minerals, especially the B vitamins, support a healthy metabolism as well as appropriate growth. Fiber contributes to a healthy weight by promoting regularity.
Formulating Products for Children
Consumer packaged goods companies are looking for innovative and purposeful ways to engage moms and kids in selecting nutrient dense food and beverage products. DSM’s Laura King, RDN and Early Life Nutrition Segment Manager says that “Moms want their kids to get everything they need from the foods they eat. They’re looking for convenience, but also balance and for foods to deliver the benefits they seek – like eye health and cognitive benefits.” Fortification is top of mind with moms. King adds “We believe that moms are becoming more interested in fortification of their children’s foods and beverages and the benefits these nutrients can provide.”
Contact us at [email protected] and speak with a nutrition scientist today about your children’s products!
1 Munoz Ka, et al. (1997) Pediatrics 100:3 Pt 1:323-9
2 Parizkova J (2000) Eur J Clin Nutr 54 Suppl 1:S36-40
3 Bailey et al., J Pediatr 2012; 161: 837-842
4 Maggini S, et al (2010) J Int Med Res 38:2;386-414
5 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2010) “The State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Report”
6 Institute of Medicine (2006) “Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity”?
7 Munoz EC et al (2010) Am J Clin Nutr 71:3; 789-94
8 Ipsos (2017) Global Health Concerns Survey; Kids (North America)
9 Bikle D (2009) J Clin Endocrinol Metab 94:1; 26-34
10 Hammond, BR Jr (2008) Nutr Rev 66:12;695-702
11 Bourre, JM (2006) J Nutr Health Aging 10:5;377-85
12 Schuchardt JP, et al (2010) Eur J Pediatr 169:2; 149-64