Feeding difficulties in childhood are relatively common in the UK despite most children being well nourished and eating plenty of foods to meet their nutritional needs. Deficiencies of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are rare, apart from iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin D deficiency. Around 10% of UK children do not eat enough nutritious foods to grow normally, and is referred to as growth faltering. In most cases this is simply a result of limited knowledge rather than illness. Some cases are due to an underlying condition either affecting appetite, food intake or poor absorption of nutrients. For other children it may be due to an undiagnosed condition, such as a food allergy or intolerance or gastrointestinal problems.
Children who eat little or consume a diet low in nutrient dense foods are at risk of nutrient deficiencies. The Eatwell Guide shows the proportion of food from each group that is needed for a healthy diet, and is suitable for children aged 5 and over. It is important to know that children during the early year have nutrients needs 4 – 5 times greater than an adult. See blog on healthy eating in the early years for further information.
A balanced and diverse diet protects against nutritional problems and supplements are rarely needed. Increasingly inactive lifestyles encourage over-consumption of energy-rich foods from fats and sugars, but also under-consumption of fibre, fruits and vegetables. This can have a number of detrimental effects on the health of children, including tooth decay and obesity and leads to poorer adult health. During the early years Food refusal is a common problem, and many parents worry their child is not eating enough and is at risk of nutrient deficiency. Families benefit from using tried and tested strategies to navigate this phase, with the reassurance that this is a normal developmental phase of childhood. Although nutrient deficiencies are rare, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that low dietary intake of calcium, zinc, folic acid vitamin B6 and iron are common in young children.
Children with prolonged or extreme food refusal whose wellbeing and growth is seriously affected may benefit from a team approach, or need access/referral to other professionals, which I am able to offer as part of my feeding support clinic.