Childhood Nutrition – Energy And Nutrient Needs

Childhood nutrition is important for these years of rapid growth of the child. These years are described as the years before adolescence, the years from ages 1-12. The calorie needs of a one year old in kilocalories are between 850-1,000 kilocalories/day with this requirement doubling by age 10.

How can it be determined just what the energy requirements are for a child at any age? There is a calculation called the Estimated Energy Requirement that is based on the child’s sex, height, weight, and activity level using a series of formulas depending on the sex of the individual and whether they are a child or an adult.

Children still require the same nutrients that adults do but less of them as they continue to get older. As long as the child eats a variety of healthy foods then they will obtain all of the nutrients in the form of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals that they need with the exception of iron. By consuming a high quantity of milk which is common in childhood with the consumption of cow’s milk as the child gets older, an inadequate iron intake can result, thus the child should be limited to about 3-4 glasses of milk per day. Instead the child should consume foods high in iron such as lean meats, beans, fish, poultry, and breads and cereals that have been enriched with iron. If iron deficiency is allowed to develop it can affect the child’s ability to learn, their attention span, focus, and mood.

Childhood nutrition may also be deficient in vitamin D which helps to prevent rickets which is a well known risk of insufficient vitamin D, but other risks that have surfaced are the potential risks to children of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and lower levels of high density lipoproteins in children. Thus it is recommended that if children do not obtain enough vitamin D in the diet a supplement of 400 IU/day may be needed.

Many children can also be deficient in micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin E if their diet does not meet the guidelines of myplate for the recommended servings of fruits, grains and dairy products, and although the diet for a child is not much different for an adult, the child could end up taking supplements instead of eating a healthy prepared meal.

Over supplementation, especially iron can be dangerous for children and unless the child’s diet is restricted for health reasons such as malnourishment, food allergies, and chronic diseases; therefore, the effort should be made to prepare a healthy meal for the child so that vitamins and minerals can be obtained naturally in safe quantities for the child.

Childhood Nutrition Concerns

Some of the major concerns regarding nutrition in childhood are malnutrition and hunger, childhood obesity, and overweight children, lead toxicity, chronic disease and vegetarian diets being given to children.

Malnutrition and Hunger

Malnutrition and hunger play a devastating role on the subsequent growth and development of a child. The resulting in such nutrients as vitamin A, zinc, iron and protein result in illness, limited development, stunted growth, and for vitamin A the possibility of permanent blindness. The problems of malnutrition and hunger are often connected with underdeveloped countries but increasingly due to problems of the economy in even developed countries such as the United States the issues of malnutrition and hunger are now on the door step of developed countries and pose a serious threat to the wellbeing of future generations. Focusing appropriate resources on childhood nutrition can help turn the tide toward increasingly malnurished and hungry children.

Childhood Behavior Issues

Many of the sugary drinks that children consume are loaded with caffeine which can make children jittery and interfere with their sleeping habits just as they can an adult, and due to the small bodies of children these symptoms can be intensified, thus in children just as in adults caffeine should be limited and even more so in a growing child.

Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has become a huge problem in this country resulting in a higher number of children than ever before who are either overweight or obese and who are developing at a very early age diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Children that are overweight and obese are also likely to experience learning difficulties and psychological experiences of being picked on by other children about their weight. The consequences of not teaching children to follow a healthy diet are both psychologically devastating and physically deadly.

Lead Toxicity in Children

Children may be exposed to lead through plumbing in old homes, old paint from cracked and peeling walls, and even ingesting lead in contaminated drinking water. Lead toxicity can cause slow growth, iron deficiency anemia, damage to the brain and central nervous system resulting in learning disabilities and behavior problems, and even a reduction in IQ. By insuring that children have the proper intakes of iron, calcium, and zinc through good nutrition, lead toxicity can be reduced, thus another reason for making sure that children get the nutrition that they need.

Vegetarian Diets in Childhood Nutrition

Children can benefit from a healthy balanced vegetarian diet, with lower intakes of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol with higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, and fiber. The diets that these children are feed involve lacto-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian and vegan diets.

Making sure that these diets emphasize adequate sources of calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D is important to a successful vegetarian diet for a child, particularly for a child that is on a vegan diet where meat and cow’s milk has been totally removed. These children need to have a substitution of beans and nuts as meat substitution and soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin B12 should be substituted for cow’s milk. In order to get enough vitamin D, sun exposure for at least 15 minutes a day or if there is not enough sunlight exposure drinking at least 32 ounces of vitamin D fortified milk or if the child is not drinking vitamin D fortified milk then a vitamin supplement is recommended.

Keeping the child healthy through good childhood nutrition will prevent a score of problems as the child continues to age to adulthood and can prevent a host of chronic diseases that can last into adulthood or at the worst can cause early mortality in the child preventing them from even reaching adulthood.

For information on childhood nutrition click on the link to


Adolescent Nutrition - Setting The Stage For Adult Health • Adult Nutrition

For other information on nutrition including childhood nutrition some great references are:

• Nutrition – Fourth Edition by Paul Insel, Don Ross, Kimberley McMahon, and Melissa Bernstein

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