Nutrition for School Age Children: Implications for Good Health and Well-Being
Good nutrition is associated with good health and well-being. Poor childhood nutrition, particularly those associated with children of school age are becoming a global public health concern. The overconsumption of unhealthy high calorie, fatty, sugary and oily foods is becoming regular dietary practice. The present paper provides a factual construct of the importance of nutrients, their functions, the amount required per day and possible good nutrient sources for the maintenance of good health, well-being, and the development of healthy bodies and alerts minds, essential requirements for academic success.
Nutrition in schools is an area of increasing public health concern among healthcare professionals. Poor nutrition either through selection or by choice or by necessity or by availability has become a grey area in childhood nutrition. Children are eating more calorie dense foods and less nutrient rich foods. This has lead to serious childhood problems such as obesity, dental caries, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other medical non-communicable complications. Most importantly children who eat poorly do not perform well academically when compared to well nourished children. The purpose of the present paper is to present a treatise on nutrition for school age children as a means of public health education in bringing about the requisite cultural shifts in attitudinal and behavioural changes that would lead to an improvement in school nutrition.
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Health is important to all of us. Without it we would not be able to perform our daily activities and make a valuable contribution to society. Health of the child is of particular concern to public health scientists and researchers. It is based on the premise that a healthy child would grow-up into a health adult and become a valuable member of society. This premise is benchmarked against the availability and accessibility of certain key health determinants. The main one being nutrition. But, what is nutrition?Â Nutrition is the science of taking in the right nutrients in sufficient quantities to promote physical, mental, social, intellectual, psychological and emotional health. How does nutrition contribute to health? Proper nutrition provides the body with the right nutrients in the correct proportions. The six known nutrients that the body needs are: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins and water. These nutrients are present in a wide variety of foods in various combinations. The key behind good nutrition is to know which foods contain these nutrients and to use these foods in the diet on a regular basis.
Childhood nutrition is important for the overall health as it serves to prevent the onset and development of many childhood diseases such as learning disabilities, overweight and obesity, developing brittle bones, and developing diabetes. Good nutrition also increases the likelihood that the child physically develops to his/her full potential. Healthy eating habits should be encouraged and practiced at home and should be part of the family's routine. Buying foods containing less sugar, salt and fat should be practiced regularly.
It is therefore advisable that children should be encouraged to:
- Eat a variety of foods from the six food groups.
- Eat a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains.
- Eat a diet low in cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat.
- Eat a diet moderate in sugars and salt.
- Eat a diet rich in calcium and iron.
The food guide pyramid was designed by the US Department of Agriculture to promote healthy nutrition in children over two years. The food pyramid (Figure 1) shows the approximate number of servings of the five main nutrients in the diet.
The amount of food consumed depends on age and activity level. Schoolage boys and girls require 1600 to 2400 calories per day depending on their activity levels. The more active they are, more calories are required in the diet.
Fats oils and Sweets
Based on the US Department of Agriculture Food guide it is suggested that no more than 30 % of calories in the diet should come from fats. This would mean that a 1600 calorie diet, no more than 53 g of fat may be consumed per day. Likewise for a 2200 calorie diet, no more than 73 g of fat may be consumed per day. Sugary foods and snacks such as candies, soft drinks, jams and jellies provide a large amount of calories with little nutritional value and should be consumed sparingly.
Milk, Yogurt, Cheese and Calcium
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Milk, yogurt and cheese are placed into the food group, dairy products. These foods provide protein, vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of calcium. It is suggested that children require at least 800 mg of calcium per day. This amount may increase to 1200 mg during puberty. Schoolage children should have at least 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt and cheese each day in order to meet their developmental requirements.
Meat, Fish,Beans, Eggs and Nuts
Meat, fish, beans, eggs and nuts provide proteins, vitamins (including B vitamins) and minerals, (including iron and zinc). Schoolage children should have at least 2 to 3 servings of foods from this group each day. Within these servings there should be at least 10 to 12 mg of iron per day for muscle, and blood development.
Vegetables are valuable sources of vitamins A, C and B9, and mineral such as iron, magnesium and fiber. Schoolage children should consume at least 2 to 4 servings of vegetables.
Fruits should be eaten fresh when in season. Freshly squeezed juice contains more vitamin C and A than canned juice which contains between 5-15 % actual fruit juices. Fruits are rich in antioxidants and provide water and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium. Schoolage children should consume at least 2-4 servings of fruit per day.
Bread, Pasta, Cereal and Rice
Bread, pasta, cereal and rice provide excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. This food group provides energy, vitamins and minerals. Schoolage children should consume at least 6-11 servings per day.
Nutrition is important for proper development of the child. Proper nutrition should be encouraged and reinforced throughout life together with regular exercise. Eating the right foods in the correct proportions can lead to the development of healthy bodies and should be encouraged throughout the early schoolage period in order to develop the requisite attitudinal and behavioural attributes that would lead to the development of sound mind and bodies.
Good nutrition is linked to good health and well being. Good nutrition with adequate physical activity leads to the children with strong bodies and minds. Schoolage children should be encouraged to eat healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables which should form a major part of the diet. This together with adequate amounts of meat and cereals. Snacks, sweet, salty and oily foods should be used sparingly since these foods promote cavities, obesity and diabetes. Eating smart today may mitigate preventable diseases later on.