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Low Nutrient Intakes in Preschool Children

Appropriate nutrition in early childhood is important for normal growth and may influence long-term health and chronic disease status.

There is concern that while the energy intakes of young children are increasing, this may not be matched by the nutrient density of their diets. This has been interpreted by some to indicate a modern phenomenon of malnutrition in the developed world – an increasing prevalence of childhood obesity co-existing with key micronutrient deficiencies.

A recent study published in Medical Journal of Australia conducted a cross-sectional survey of children aged 1–5 years from a representative population sample in Adelaide, South Australia, to determine the nutrient intakes and status of preschool children.

The survey found that overall energy contributions from carbohydrate, protein, fat and saturated fat intakes were 50%, 17%, 33% and 16%, respectively. 95% of children over 2 years of age had a saturated fat intake that exceeded the maximum recommended limit of 10% of total energy.  Only a minority of children achieved the adequate intake for omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (32%) and dietary fibre (18%).  32% of children had zinc deficiency.

The study author concluded that the dietary intake of children in the study was adequate for macronutrients and the majority of micronutrients. However, low intakes of fibre and n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and high saturated fat intakes have raised concerns that this dietary pattern may be associated with adverse long-term health effects.  There is a need for increased attention on establishing healthy eating patterns in early childhood, as dietary patterns established early in life often carry through to adulthood.

[Note: It is worth pointing out that this survey used the EAR (Estimated Average Requirement) as reference value when evaluating nutrients intake adequacy. EAR is much lower than RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake).  If RDI were used as reference value, the prevalence of deficiency for key micronutirents might be higher than findings from this survey.  Further studies are warranted to better define optimal nutritional requirements.]

Shao J Zhou et al; MJA 2012; 196: 696–700

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