“Tomorrow’s world is already taking shape in the body and spirit of our children.” – Kofi Annan
This quote from the seventh United Nations Secretary General (from January 1997 to December 2006) and 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kofi Annan, reminds us of the critical importance of attending to the needs of children, not only for their own sakes in the here and now (as “beings”), but also as the “becomings” of the future.
While children’s health and development is dependent on a myriad of factors that we mention below, their eating behaviours are fundamental to their health. If we as parents, want to ensure that we have not only healthy kids but smart kids as well, we must pay attention to what is affecting them.
Did you know that the development and long-term health of children, physically, mentally and emotionally, is linked to their nutritional habits from their early life onward?
Parents obviously have a high degree of control over the environments and experiences of their children, partly because children model themselves on their parents’ eating behaviours, lifestyles, eating-related attitudes and habits, and their happiness or dissatisfactions regarding body image. Eating behaviours are thus likely to be established early in life and may be maintained into adulthood with little thought given to their long-term effects.
So what can parents do to ensure their child gets the best start in life?
Dietary surveys indicate strongly that Australian children’s current food consumption is likely to promote a range of diet-related diseases, which include but are not limited to overweight and obesity, both of which are associated with a range of psychosocial and physical disorders. Now this is not what we want for our children.
The three key factors impacting children health are often overlooked, and the one we discuss here are their nutritional needs. Children need vitamins for proper development, to fight disease and to recover from injury, not to mention better health over the long term. Many researchers and healthcare professionals believe that our human bodies need 90+ different types of nutrients to be able to live a long and healthy life, and these are all especially important in our formative years.
So what are these nutrients and how can we ensure our children have everything they need for their optimal wellbeing? The ninety plus nutrients are made up of approximately 70+ trace elements and minerals, 15-16 vitamins, 12 amino acids, and 3 essential fatty acids.
Looking at some of the research into known deficiency diseases in children, and at what nutrients can make a difference, is really what this article is about. But first, let’s look at why this concern is a rapidly growing problem.
Why Diet Is No Longer Enough!
Most people don’t think much about the ‘why’ of eating beyond the need to respond to hunger. Food provides the energy sources and raw materials for the body to create, repair and maintain itself. As we’ve discussed, children’s eating and lifestyle behaviours are fundamental to their health and there are a variety of aspects of a child’s environment that shape their food choices and intake, their digestive function and their general wellbeing. But there are many other factors that also impact them on a daily basis. Dietary factors, such as low fibre, highly processed diets, can all contribute to less than optimal wellbeing.
Things such as the air we breath, the foods we eat and what we are physically exposed to also have an impact. Inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion of substances not natural to the body affect all our natural metabolic process, and thus impact us physically and psychologically. For instance just to look at the air we breathe. The Children’s Health Study Final Report represents an extensive compilation of more than 10 years of community ambient air pollution on the effects of chronic air pollution exposures on the health of children living in Southern California. It measured health outcomes relating to lung function growth, asthma, bronchitis, and acute respiratory illnesses.
Research evidence over recent decades suggests that the health and wellness outcomes of Australian children have declined. This should be taken as a warning to all citizens concerned about the future of not only Australia, but the world at large.
- Mental health problems affect up to 20 per cent in young people and are associated with poor educational outcomes, relationship difficulties, high rates of welfare dependence, delinquency and criminality.
- Suicide rates in Australia are among the highest in the western world.
- Overweight and obesity are escalating and are associated with a range of psycho-social as well as physical disorders.
- The increasing number of atopic (denoting a form of allergy in which a hypersensitivity reaction such as eczema or asthma may occur in a part of the body not in contact with the allergen) have been described as the ‘new plagues’ of modern western societies.
- Other chronic health problems such as asthma, obesity and myopia are affecting growing numbers of young people.
Evidence suggests that parents’ concern for disease prevention, their awareness of the issues affecting their families health, as well as their understanding of nutrition, are all likely to impact on a child’s wellbeing, and in view of the growing issues it’s clear parents are not being given adequate information on how to prevent disease.
A number of other factors such as parents’ beliefs about the healthfulness of foods, their own consumption habits, and their nutritional knowledge also impact the wellbeing of their family. When you add to the variety of opinions of what’s ‘healthy’, other aspects such as budgetary, lifestyle, societal and other reasons; good quality sources of nutrition through nutrition may not always be available. There are things you can do about it though.
What Can Parents Do?
Food preferences are said to be shaped by a combination of genetic, societal and environmental factors. Ensuring your child enjoys a balanced, healthy diet and regular exercise is the ideal start. In circumstances where optimum nutrition may not be achieved, supplementation may play a role in optimising your children’s potential for wellbeing.
As parents, we all like to believe we’re doing the very best for our children at every stage of their lives. One place we would be well to focus our energies is on the special needs children have, when it comes to nutritional requirements, so let’s begin there.
Make sure you connect with the person who sent you to this site, or contact us a [email protected] With the prevalence of chronic childhood diseases, overweight and obesity rapidly increasing, being able to provide opportunities for informed prevention on a wide range of wellness issues has become a focus of the Savvy Team’s wellness education strategy.
The best and easiest way to ensure your child enjoys a balanced, healthy diet is to look for foods higher in nutrient rich energy sources and to supplement with a wide range of vitamins and minerals such as can be found in a good quality children’s multivitamin are a regular part of their diet. Ensure they get a wide range of vegetables and regular protein sources with every meal, along with a variety of soaked seeds and nuts. Daily exercise is also essential – and that goes for parents too.
Managing your children’s special health needs is a parent’s responsibility. In caring for your children while well supported by government Child Care Services, it’s up to you to look at the factors they don’t. While there are many resources to help us care for our children such as this manual, what we have seen as the most important of the three simple steps you can take in your home are their special nutritional needs. Wellness is not that hard. We hope this article helps you see why it’s up to you.
Children’s Health & Development – New Research Directions For Australia PDF
Children’s Health Study: Longitudinal studies of children and youth Implications for future studies, by Jan Nicholson, Ann Sanson, Lynn Rempel, Diana Smart and George Patton
The Children’s Health Study: New England Journal of Medicine – “The Effect of Air Pollution on Lung Development from 10 to 18 Years of Age”
Family food environments as determinants of preschool-aged children`s eating behaviours – implications for obesity prevention: A review by Campbell, Karen, Crawford, David – 2001