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Proper Nutrition and Childhood Development

Proper nutrition is imperative for proper physical and mental development of children. With the holidays in front of us, it’s especially important that we keep proper nutrition in mind for our children.

Obesity has become a serious problem in the United States, not just among adults, but among children. About one in six children in the U.S. is considered obese according to the State of Childhood Obesity

On the flip side of the coin, more than seven percent of children ages 10 to 17 are considered underweight when compared to their peers. It’s imperative that parents provide proper nutrition for their children in order for them to experience the best growth and developmental outcomes.

The Obesity Problem

Research by the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health found in its 2022 National Survey of Children’s Health that roughly 17 percent of children between age 10 and 17 in the U.S. are considered obese, weighing in at the 95th percentile or above to their peers. Another 15.2 percent fell into the overweight category as well. That means about 32 percent of youth in America are overweight or obese.

In addition to obesity on the while, the State of Childhood Obesity also reports significant disparities by race and ethnicity when it comes to obesity.

“Non-Hispanic Asian children had the lowest obesity rate (9.6 percent) followed by Non-Hispanic White children (13.1 percent). Obesity rates were significantly higher for Hispanic (22.7 percent), Non-Hispanic Black (22 percent), and Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan Native (21.4 percent) children.”

Household income also was a factor in childhood obesity. In 2021-2022, children living in families from the lowest income group had the highest rates of obesity (24.1 percent) while those living in the highest income group had the lowest incidence of obesity at 9.7 percent. The National Library of Medicine reports that data shows these differences are largely attributable to inequities in the physical and social environment in which children are raised. Low-income families often live in areas that “lack full-service grocery stores, exercise facilities, recreational programs and parks.”

Lower-income families typically have “less physical activity, poorer nutritional food consumption, more consumption of fried food and sugary beverages, and much more time watching television or playing video games,” according to the National Library of Medicine. “Other studies have also reported that lower-income communities have reduced access to supermarkets and places to exercise, but that these same communities have numerous convenience stores and fast food chains, which, taken together, promote poor nutrition and little or no physical activity.”

According to the Plutus Foundation, unhealthy food choices tend to be cheaper, which explains why low-income families are more likely to have children who are obese. “A comprehensive review of 27 studies in 10 countries found that unhealthy food is about $1.50 cheaper per day than healthy food. If you’re feeding a large family, it may cost less to simply buy from the dollar menu or purchase cheap, premade frozen dinners.”

Additionally, unhealthy food is often more convenient than preparing food at home. This is especially true for families juggling multiple jobs, according to the Plutus Foundation. The same organization also reports that unhealthy food often tastes better to the masses because of the additives of salt and sugar.

When Children are Underweight

While some children battle obesity, other are underweight. Every child, based on genetics, has their own optimal weight. If your younger child isn’t gaining enough weight each season to outgrow their clothes, this is reason enough to schedule an appointment with the pediatrician.

Children who are born prematurely may take a little time to catch up with their peers in terms of weight gain. This is not abnormal. In addition to premature birth, picky eating may also lead to a child being underweight. There are other considerations as well that may lead to a child being below what is considered a “normal” weight for their age such as:

~Food allergies, which can make getting enough calories a challenge.

~Hormonal or digestive problems, which can lead to the inadequate absorption of nutrients.

~Medications such as those typically used to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can suppress appetite in children.

Health Consequences of Poor Nutrition

There are many negative health conditions that can result from poor nutrition for both overweight and underweight children.

Childhood obesity has been linked to several conditions, according to the National Library of Medicine, including fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes. Others include, but are not limited to:


~Cardiovascular Disease

~High Cholesterol

~Skin Conditions

~Impaired Balance

~Menstrual Abnormalities

There are also health consequences for underweight children. According to, health complications associated with underweight children can include a “weakened immune system, slower than expected linear growth, and shorter than expected height.” Other health issues underweight children may experience include, according to the World Health Organization, but are not limited to:

~Difficulties with Learning

~Cardiovascular Disease

~ High Blood Pressure

~Certain Cancers

Nutritional Guidelines

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends several components for a healthy diet, from which all children can gain the most benefit.

~A variety of vegetables and fruits

~Whole grains

~Fat-free or low-fat dairy including milk, yogurt, and cheese

~A variety of protein including seafood, lean meats, eggs, and legumes


Children age two to four should be consuming 1,000 to 1,600 calories a day depending on their growth and activity level. For children age five to eight, they require 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day, again, depending on their growth and activity level.

Between age nine and 13, children need between, 1,400 and 2,600 calories per day. Boys tend to need slightly more calories per day at this age, but, again, growth and activity levels will impact their dietary needs.

Girls ages 14 to 18 should be consuming 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day. Boys in this age group require 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. Again, the amount of calories required will depend on the individual growth and activity level of each child.

You may notice that when your child is growing, regardless of age, that they tend to eat and sleep more. This is normal.

What Parents Can Do

There are several steps that parents can take to help ensure that their children are eating properly throughout the year. Parents should know that all food and beverage choices matter. By adopting and modeling health eating patterns, they are setting the example for their children in how to eat properly.

Parents should focus on providing a variety of nutrient-dense food across all food groups. Choose seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are a necessity. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or dried. Peas, beans, and colorful vegetables such as carrots and bell peppers are high in nutritional content. When shopping for canned or frozen vegetables, look at the packaging and select those with low sodium.

Whole grains such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn, and quinoa are great options. When selecting rice, look for brown or wild rice rather than white rice.

Parents should encourage their children to eat and drink low-fat or fat-free dairy products. This can be low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Soy fortified beverages are another option for those with dairy allergies.

The biggest thing parents can do is to encourage their children to avoid certain foods such as fast food. Teach children that beverages and food loaded with added sugar and caffeine such as soda and energy drinks should be avoided.

Furthermore, parents should discourage the consumption of foods high in saturated fats such as red meat, hot dogs, and poultry with the skin on. Desserts such as cake, cookies, and ice cream also tend to contain high amounts of saturated fats. Again, these should be reserved for occasional consumption.

Finally, the Mayo Clinic reports that most children in the U.S. have too much salt, also known as sodium, in their daily diets. Avoid hidden salt in processed foods such as pizza, pasta, and soup. Potato chips are typically very high in salt and should be avoided except for special occasions. Parents should be checking nutrition labels to find foods with low sodium.

Remember that proper nutrition and optimal childhood development go hand in hand. For more information and assistance with providing your child proper nutrition for their best growth and development, visit or contact us via email at We are here to help you help your child enjoy a healthy diet with the best physical and developmental outcomes.

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