Why is nutrition important for this group?
Whatever our age, what we eat can play a crucial role in determining our health. The food we eat not only affects our physical health but also our mental health. Childhood and adolescence are a time of rapid growth, development, and increased activity. During the early years of life general eating habits and patterns are formed that will influence our health into adulthood. If balanced nutrition is encouraged and healthy eating habits and patterns are formed in early life, we are investing in our future health.
What symptoms can cause reduced dietary intake in this group?
Just like your body, your mind can become unwell too. Children and adolescents can experience the same negative feelings as adults, such as; poor body image, bullying, anger, stress, eating and sleeping problems, exam stress, grief and loss, loneliness, panic attacks and abuse. This can impact on mental health and may lead to depression and/or anxiety. Some signs of depression and anxiety in children and teenagers include; persistent sadness, low mood or lack of motivation, being nervous or ‘on edge’, spending less time with family and friends and not enjoying things they used to like, feeling upset, tearful or angry, experiencing panic attacks, low self-esteem or feeling they are ‘worthless’, and also changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Experiencing symptoms associated with poor mental health can lead to a reduced dietary intake and may lead to children and adolescents becoming malnourished.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition or undernutrition is a serious condition that occurs due to a lack of nutrients in the diet. Because childhood and adolescence are times of rapid growth and development, malnutrition can lead to the development of conditions such as faltered growth. This is characterised by slower weight gain and/or height growth. Impaired cognitive ability and behavioural issues can also occur in children who are malnourished. In adolescence malnutrition can lead to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as calcium and iron, which can lead to poor bone mineralization and anaemia. Hormone levels can also be affected and this may lead to amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) in females and lower testosterone levels in males. Other symptoms of malnutrition in both groups include; feeling tired all the time, lack of interest in food and drink, changes in mood, poor concentration, feeling cold all the time, recurring infections due to lowered immune system and poor healing of cuts and wounds.
How to help prevent and/or manage malnutrition?
Eating a healthy balanced diet and having a regular eating pattern can help to prevent malnutrition in children and adolescents. Include items daily from the main food groups; fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, pasta and bread, dairy or non-dairy alternative products, sources of protein meat, eggs, fish, lentils and beans, soya, tofu or meat alternatives will help to achieve a healthy balanced diet. The UK Government Guidelines ‘Eat Well Guide ’ has further information on these food groups and portions sizes and are suitable for children aged 5 and over. You can find a link to this below.
Top Tips to aid dietary intake:
- Aim to have 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. Offer finger food such as, cut up fruit, vegetables crudities, cheese cubes, chicken strips, breadsticks, popcorn and fruit breads. These are ideal to grab and eat on the go.
- Increasing portion sizes gradually at mealtimes, especially starchy foods such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. This can help your child gain weight. If they struggle with larger portions, you can try fortifying meals and snacks with cream, cheese, nut butters, whole milk, and butter. Offer a snack or nourishing drink before bed, such as a warm milky drink or milk alternative such as hot chocolate, malted drink or flavoured milk.
- Don’t force your child to eat, provide a relaxed environment, increase opportunities for them to eat some food more frequently by providing snacks or meals little and often.
- Keep children and teenagers active, increased activity levels stimulate appetite.
- Don’t skip breakfast. Eating breakfast breaks the fast after the night, boosts the body’s metabolism, and increases appetite.
- UK Government Guidelines ‘Eat Well Guide’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide
This piece was written in conjunction with a specialist paediatric dietitian from the UK.
Pro-Cal shot and Pro-Cal powder are Foods for Special Medical Purposes and must be used under medical supervision. Suitable from 3 years of age onwards. Pro-Cal shot contains Milk (Milk Protein, Lactose) and Soya (Soya Lecithin). Pro-Cal powder contains Milk (Milk protein, lactose)