Childhood is a decisive moment in the building of eating habits, with consequences that unfold throughout life. However, data on the diet of children around the world points to the new face of malnutrition – which is no longer solely composed of malnourishment and now includes a growing number of children and adolescents who are overweight or affected by or obesity.
Therefore, families must increasingly pay attention to their children’s diet, restricting their access to ultra-processed foods, such as sugar filled cookies and juice boxes, and not waiting to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist only when there is a problem to resolve: nutrition is also prevention.
This is what nutritionist and Child-Adolescent Health doctor Mônica Assunção tells us.
“I recommend that the first consultation takes place when food is initially introduced, so that you can work on the prevention of diseases through careful eating. So the recommendation is for parents to take their children to a nutritionist at around five months”, she advises.
But parents should be cautious with the feeding of their little ones well before, while still in pregnancy.
“It is important for mothers to eat well during this period, as it is a time of intense cell growth and development”, she reinforces, saying that children who eat well until the age of five tend to have greater weight control and avoid a lack of micronutrients.
Check out the full interview:
Could you introduce yourself, telling us a little about your education and professional experience in Child Nutrition?
Well, my name is Mônica Assunção. I am a nutritionist and graduated from the Federal University of Alagoas. I have a Ph.D. in Child and Adolescent Health from the Federal University of Pernambuco and I have been working with Maternal and Child Nutrition since 2009, both on an outpatient basis and in the area of research.
Good nutrition is important at all stages of life, but it stands out in childhood. Why is that?
Regarding the importance of food at different stages of life, but especially in childhood, I usually say that child feeding has an impact beginning during pregnancy. Therefore, it is important for the mother to eat well during this period, as it is a time of intense cell growth and development.
Normally, a mother who eats well during pregnancy also promotes the continuity of this care after birth – either by breastfeeding or the introduction of food.
So we know that when a child eats well, especially in the first two years of life – which is one of the periods of greatest plasticity, and they keep this practice for at least 5 years, they will have greater weight control and avoid micronutrient deficiency, what we often call ‘hidden hunger’. With this, the child will have a better quality of life in the future for having been prepared in childhood.
What are the key indicators and important considerations that parents should monitor to ensure their children are getting the most out of their diet?
In general, parents must ensure that their children have a diversified and balanced diet that includes all food groups. Thus, parents must offer fruits (at least 2 servings per day), legumes, grains, whole foods, meat, fish, chicken, eggs, root vegetables, rice, pasta, milk and dairy products daily, but they should avoid a diet solely based on the latter.
When is it time to look for a specialist in child nutrition?
I recommend that the first consultation takes place when food is initially introduced, so that you can work on preventing diseases through careful eating. So the recommendation is that parents take their children to a nutritionist at around five months, so that they receive all the guidance on how to proceed with complementary feeding.
When the child has already developed a disease, such as obesity, dyslipidemia or anemia, this obligation becomes even more urgent. But in general, the ideal situation is for parents to take their children to see a nutritionist as soon as possible so that the child learns to have a proper diet from an early age.
The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, Food and Nutrition report finds that at least one in three children under the age of five – about 250 million – is malnourished or overweight. The report further highlights that many children and teenagers are eating too little healthy food and too much unhealthy food. How has this reality been reflected in doctors’ offices? And how can we change it?
The information in the report is important and in line with what we experience on a daily basis – overweight children, obesity and some degree of anemia and vitamin deficiency that, all of a sudden, force the children to stop eating everything they had been eating.
This migration from unhealthy foods, such as ultra-processed foods, juice boxes, sugar filled cookies, soda and instant noodles, to a more balanced diet is usually difficult, because the child was not prepared for this. With the difficulty of acceptance, we start to have family conflicts.
Thus, the important thing is to forbid the child from having access to these types of food, in order to work on prevention.