The problem of childhood obesity cannot be solved without focusing on children’s nutrition.
But childhood obesity isn’t the only reason children’s nutrition deserves attention from people
in the early childhood field. Ensuring that children receive adequate nutrition—for example,
vitamins, minerals, and proteins—and adequate amounts of food is equally important. Healthy
eating and nutritional support and education must address not only obesity but also nutritional
deficiency and food insecurity.
People are considered nutritionally deficient when they do not receive the nutrients they need
from their daily diets. Nutritional deficiencies occur in children and adults alike. Even those who
are overweight can be nutritionally deficient. According to findings from the National Health
and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2000, 20 percent of the calories consumed in the
United States are from nutritionally void foods such as soda and pastries (Block 2004). When
people subsist primarily on nutritionally void foods, their bodies cannot function properly, and
they are more susceptible to illness and injury. Children eat nutritionally void foods for many
reasons, including cost, convenience, and access. Compounding the problem is how food choices
are made. When children eat typical American “kid foods”—the type of food often found on
children’s menus in restaurants, such as chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, and hamburgers—
they consume few vitamins and minerals and a lot of unhealthy simple carbohydrates. When
such foods make up the bulk of children’s daily diets, their nutritional needs are not met, their
weight increases, their health declines, and their development slows.
Not being able to predict when you can eat your next meal or where it will come from is called
food insecurity. Sadly, hunger remains a significant and disturbing problem in the United States
and is a reality for many families with young children. About 17 million children (23 percent
of all children in the United States) are food insecure (Nord et al. 2010). For some children,
their only regular source of food is eaten while they are in child care. Their teachers must ensure
that food for these children is the healthiest possible. As the Food Research and Action Center
(FRAC) notes, “The mental and physical changes that accompany inadequate food intakes can
have harmful effects on learning, development, productivity, physical and psychological health,
and family life” (Why Hunger 2012).
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