There’s been a rapid rise in childhood illness, much of it non-communicable, nutrition related. Diet related diseases are the biggest killer of children today. Life expectancy is on the decline with reports that this generation may be the first to not outlive its parents, a terrifying thought.
Today a healthy child is one that’s not sick. To me that’s not really enough.
We have seen increases in the rates of:
- mood and mental health conditions
Many children are struggling with vision, concentration and keeping up at school, and while not only driven by nutritional deficiencies, they certainly do contribute significantly.
A lack of focus and attention or behavioural issues affect more than just our children and their schooling. Family dynamics, the load on our teachers, difficulty with friendships, feeling misunderstood or isolated and poor self-esteem are all tangled up in this web too.
The nutrient demands on a child’s growing body are huge. There is rapid growth and development, bones are lengthening and hardening, blood volume is expanding and their neurodevelopment is unmatched later in life. Brain development is much faster in the early years of life compared to the rest of the body, which may make the brain more vulnerable to dietary deficiencies. We underestimate just how big these needs are. For example, did you realise a 4 year old child requires more iron than a fully grown 20 year old male?
THE BODY OUR CHILD BUILDS DEPENDS HIGHLY ON THE BUILDING BLOCKS AVAILABLE TO IT
So why is early-life nutrition so important?
- It helps with immune resilience and infection prevention
- It supports disease prevention, now and in the future (nutrigenomics and epigenetics)
- and it supports resilience against environmental exposures
Nutritional deficiencies are common in many children who come to see me in the clinic. Many of these are due to lack of consumption of the nutrients (through fussy eating, low consumption of nutrient-dense foods etc) but can often be due to poor digestion and absorption of the nutrients coming through the diet. In cases of low iron levels, often found pinworms or intestinal parasites are involved as well.
Nutrition can get pretty dogmatic at times and debates right or wrong very heated! Ultimately the most important factor is to listen to your body and the signs your child is showing you, to keep it simple, and if improvements or changes are needed, to start as soon as you are aware.
Start with the basics – aim for real, whole and fresh foods, reduce chemicals/packets, buy the best quality you can afford and where it’s possible choose local, seasonal produce.
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Sandi Cooper is an experienced Naturopath working in clinical practice for almost two decades. Her clients love her down-to-earth approach and her naturally caring qualities. Although Sandi is experienced in most areas of clinical practice, she has a special interest in children’s health and nutrition, working with parents to get the best outcomes for their children.