Is your child a picky eater?

A child’s school-age is between five to ten years old. It is a period of cognitive learning, body development, and behavior formation. Children are highly active and spend most of the time in school, which eats up about one-fourth of their time. Due to school and extra-curricular activities, attention is often divided, and along with this is a “hard-to-please” attitude which stereotypes a child as “the picky eater”.

The picky eaters are so much fascinated with color, appearance, and taste but seldom attracted to the different spectrum of colors and appearances of vegetables and fruits. According to the results of the 2008 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST), fruits and vegetables, usually non-leafy varieties, only compose the bottom half of the foods frequently consumed by school-age children.

The individual 24-hour food recall showed that children consume only about one-third (1/3) cup of vegetables and 44 grams (g) or about one-half (½) piece medium-sized banana lacatan daily. The Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos recommends about one cup of vegetables and two medium-sized fruit daily.
One significant result of the NNS in 2008 is that the 30-item list of most frequently consumed food includes snack foods, soft drinks, instant noodles, hotdog, and powdered juices. This is quite alarming considering that children’s preference for unhealthy food choices can be carried on until adulthood and this makes them at-risk to diet-related diseases.

Parents usually have difficulty in feeding children due to the latter’s preference for a single food item like fried chicken, hotdogs, and nuggets. Children frequently choose these at meal times and neglect other food items. A study led by Stevenson in 2007 implied that healthy food items are being described as “bland” and “do not have any taste at all.” Guideline number 1 of the Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos 2000 recommends eating a variety of foods every day, while guideline number 5 encourages eating more vegetables, fruits and root crops.

Different food items contribute different nutrients, and with a wide range of available healthy foods to choose from, several food items and combinations can suit the demanding taste of children.

Being a highly active individual, a child’s requirements increase as age increases, ranging from 1,410 to 2,030 kilocalories per day according to the Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intakes, 2002 of the FNRI. However, the results of the recent NNS indicated that only one-fifth (1/5) or 21.5 percent (%) of the children population is meeting the requirement for energy. When energy requirement is not met despite energy-dense food intakes, some micronutrients may also be lacking. Prolonged deficiency in dietary requirements makes an individual at-risk to different health problems.

Technology is one factor that acts both as a solution towards easy living and a dilemma for most parents. Technology does make life simpler and easier, from small mobile phones to huge satellite dishes, but it also affects the eating patterns of the younger generation. A study by Story and French in 2004 showed that children exposed to food advertisement on snacks, beverages, and fast-foods opted to buy the said food item afterwards. Use of mobile phones and tablets eats up the time of children that should have been allocated either to proper eating at the table or engaging in productive physical activity.

A combination of factors contributes to under- and over nutrition in the same household. This is called the double burden of malnutrition. Although the prevalence of underweight children decreased from 32.4 percent (%) in 2008 to 32.0 percent (%) in 2011, the prevalence of overweight children increased from 6.6 percent (%) in 2008 to 7.5 percent (%) in 2011. Efforts to alleviate malnutrition would only be significant if both under- and over-nutrition are considerably addressed.

If you think your child’s eating pattern is just a small problem, think again. Malnutrition is a pressing concern of the country due to its health risks in future life stages. Proper guidance and the changing of perception among children might be the future solutions to fight malnutrition. Introduction of fruits and vegetables in significant amounts to a child’s daily diet will not only improve nutrition, but when all family members think and act alike, it may also reduce if not totally eliminate malnutrition in the country. (DOST/FNRI/Photo Source: She Knows)

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