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Kids' Nutrition Issues in the Spotlight

Breaking News - February 2006 - Week 2

(Feb 8, 2006)

Healthcare in  the News

-- Calcium in children's diets and childhood obesity are the focus of new reports from pediatric and diabetes experts.

Picture of adolescents with schoolbooks and backpacks

According to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) regarding calcium intake and bone health in children, parents and pediatricians should play a larger role in ensuring that children get enough calcium in their diets.

And a new report in the journal Diabetes Care reports there is more evidence that being overweight is bad for kids.

Kids' Calcium Intake Often Not Enough

According to the AAP report, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, getting enough calcium during childhood and adolescence is necessary for peak bone mass development, which may help reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life.

This is especially important during adolescence. The AAP also encourages physical activity, primarily weight-bearing exercise, as part of an overall bone-health program.

"The AAP recommends children eat three servings of milk, flavored milk, cheese, or yogurt a day," Dr. Frank Greer, chairman of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, says. Dairy products help build strong bones and reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life, the AAP explains.

"While there's no cure for osteoporosis, eating 3 to4 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods will help children get the calcium they need to build strong bones, which will benefit them throughout life," Dr. Greer says.

Seven out of 10 teenage boys, and nine out of 10 teenage girls in the United States are not getting the calcium they need, according to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

Parents', Physicians' Influence Important

In addition to physical activity for children, the report also emphasizes the importance of parents being healthy role models. It calls on pediatricians to monitor whether their patients are getting enough calcium.

"We know that children's healthy eating habits are established early in life, and the primary role models are parents," Rebecca Reeves, president of the American Dietetic Association, says.

"Parents can encourage their kids to make healthful food choices by including three servings of low-fat dairy foods in their own diet every day," Ms. Greer adds.

In the report, the AAP also suggests that calcium intake be assessed periodically with a simple questionnaire beginning at 2 to 3 years of age.

After this age, the AAP suggests determining calcium intake at 8 to 9 years of age, then again during preadolescence and during adolescence, when the peak rate of bone mass growth occurs.

An important note from the AAP: calcium recommended intakes on food labels are based on adult requirements, not children's. Therefore, it is important for pediatricians to help parents read and interpret the calcium content on food labels so they can better determine how much calcium their child may be consuming.

Most people can achieve the recommended calcium intake, the AAP says, by eating three age-appropriate servings of dairy products per day (4 servings per day for adolescents.)

Low-fat dairy products, including skim milk and low-fat yogurt, are preferred sources of calcium. Calcium supplements and non-dairy foods such as calcium-fortified juices and soy products are an alternative, but these products do not offer the benefits of other nutrients, and compliance may be a problem.

According to the AAP, whole milk is not recommended until after 12 months of age, although yogurt and cheese with modest amounts of added sweeteners can be introduced after 6 months.

Childhood Obesity Increases Risk for Diabetes

Another report concerning kids and nutrition finds that obese children are more than twice as likely as normal-weight children to have diabetes.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor estimate that 229,000 American children have diabetes, and thatone third of children with diabetes are obese.

This combination of obesity and diabetes may soon strain the nation's health-care system, the researchers add.

"Among school-aged children, obese children have a greater than twofold chance of having diabetes, compared with children of normal weight," study author Dr. Joyce Lee, of the division of pediatric endocrinology and the Child Health Evaluation Unit, says.

"The large number of children with diabetes in the US, and the potential for increasing numbers of children developing diabetes with the obesity epidemic, has serious implications for how these children will receive appropriate health care now and as they grow into adulthood," Dr. Lee states.

For their study, Dr. Lee and her colleagues analyzed 2003-2004 data from the National Survey of Children's Health. The data used for this study did not distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, however.

Type 1 diabetes is an inherited form of diabetes, where the pancreas cannot produce sufficient insulin. Type 2 diabetes - where the body gradually builds resistance to insulin - is much more common and is usually linked to being overweight.

Diabetes rates were higher among older children, and the disease was more common among non-Hispanic white children than non-Hispanic black children or Hispanic children, the study found.

"These data create cause for concern, especially with a nationwide shortage of specialists who care for children with diabetes," Dr. Lee says.

"From a clinical, public health, and health resources perspective, we need to address childhood obesity head-on to help reduce the future burden of diabetes in the US," adds Dr. Lee.

Always consult your child's physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.

More About Teen Nutrition

Healthy eating during adolescence is important as body changes occurring during this time affect an individual's nutritional and dietary needs.

Adolescents are becoming more independent and making many food decisions on their own.

Many adolescents experience a growth spurt and an increase in appetite and need healthy foods to meet their growth needs.

Adolescents tend to eat more meals away from home than younger children. They are also heavily influenced by their peers.

Meal convenience is important to many adolescents and they may be eating too much of the wrong types of food (i.e., soft drinks, fast-food, processed foods) because of convenience and peer pressure.

Further, a common concern of many adolescents is dieting. Girls may feel pressure from peers to be thin and to limit what they eat. Both boys and girls may diet to "make weight" for a particular sporting or social event.

The following are some helpful considerations as you prepare meals for your adolescent:

  • Help teens to find out about nutrition for themselves by providing teen-oriented magazines or books with food articles and by encouraging them and supporting their interest in health, cooking, or nutrition.
  • Take their suggestions, when possible, regarding foods to prepare at home.
  • Experiment with foods outside your own culture.
  • Have several nutritious snack foods readily available. Often times, teenagers will eat whatever is convenient.
  • If there are foods that you do not want your teens to eat, avoid bringing them into the home.

It is important to discuss your adolescent's diet with his/her physician prior to making any dietary changes or placing your adolescent on a diet.

The following are some general guidelines for helping your adolescent eat healthy. Discuss these recommendations with your adolescent to ensure he/she is following a healthy eating plan:

  • Eat three meals a day, with healthy snacks.
  • Increase fiber in the diet and decrease the use of salt.
  • Drink water. Try to avoid drinks and juices that are high in sugar.
  • For growing children and adolescents, it is generally recommended to watch total fat consumption in the diet, rather than counting calories.
  • Eat balanced meals.
  • When cooking for your adolescent, try to bake or broil instead of frying.
  • Make sure your adolescent watches (and decreases, if necessary) his/her sugar intake.
  • Eat fruit or vegetables for a snack.
  • For children over 5 years of age, use low-fat dairy products.
  • Decrease the use of butter and heavy gravies.
  • Eat more chicken and fish.

Always consult your child's physician for more information.

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