JIS News

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  • Acting Director of Nutrition in the Ministry of Health, Sharmaine Edwards, has urged parents to foster healthy eating habits in their children, to encourage them to practice good nutrition as they grow older and avoid the hazards of unhealthy eating such as obesity.
  • "Obesity will cause a child to become lethargic, develop a negative body image, low self-esteem and it increases the risk of adulthood obesity and related illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, all of which can affect the energy level and attention span," Ms. Edwards told JIS News in an interview.
  • She said that studies had shown that children know what is nutritious and healthy for them but they actually do something different.

Acting Director of Nutrition in the Ministry of Health, Sharmaine Edwards, has urged parents to foster healthy eating habits in their children, to encourage them to practice good nutrition as they grow older and avoid the hazards of unhealthy eating such as obesity.

“Obesity will cause a child to become lethargic, develop a negative body image, low self-esteem and it increases the risk of adulthood obesity and related illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, all of which can affect the energy level and attention span,” Ms. Edwards told JIS News in an interview. She said that studies had shown that children know what is nutritious and healthy for them but they actually do something different.

“Now I think that doing comes from action. If in the home we are saying to them, don’t eat this or you shouldn’t eat a lot of this, and the mommies and the daddies are snacking on these same things, then we are giving the child a mixed message,” she points out.

Ms. Edwards further advised that parents should allow children to select foods and teach them to make healthy choices.

She said healthy nutritional practices should start as early as six months old when the child is first introduced to complementary foods.

“But parents should also ensure to practise what they teach,” she remarked. Giving an example of a healthy breakfast menu for a child, she said this could consist of half a cup of cereal with fruit and a milk drink. For lunch, she said that parents could pack lunches but most schools had a school-feeding programme, which included either a nutri snack and drink or a conventional meal.

Lunch should provide one third of the nutrients needed for the day, therefore parents will only need to plan about two thirds of the child’s nutritional needs in the morning and evening. Children will not necessarily have three square meals per day and will require snacks as they tend to eat six times per day on average.

“Parents shouldn’t be concerned about snacking because children are going to snack. What we need to do as parents is to provide healthy snacks. And healthy snacks can include fruits or vegetables, for example, give the child a carrot stick. Breads, biscuits, popcorns free of butter and sugar and low fat products are also considered good snacks,” she informed.

The age and gender of a child will determine how much food and the proportion of nutrients required by that child. For example, a pre-school male child requires 1,800 calories; a female requires 1,625, while a child up to 18 years will require about 2,700 calories, the same as the average male or female. Calories are units of energy that the body derives from food.

Nutrients are sourced from food groups such as staples, legumes, fruits, meats, fats and oils. Ms. Edwards said that parents should encourage their children to eat a lot of legumes (peas, beans and dark leafy vegetables) as these provided a good source of iron.

Fruits are also critical source of nutrients. “A serving of fruits provides 40 calories and a serving of fruits would be like a small banana or half of a medium banana, one small apple. If in fact you are going to have juices, it would be like a half cup of juice, so you would have like a half cup of orange juice,” she elaborated, noting that eating proper portions of all the food groups was essential.

While ensuring proper nutrition, Ms. Edwards cautioned parents not to become emotionally taxed by a child’s refusal to eat certain foods. She said that children might eat a lot one day and then go to the opposite extreme the following day. These are considered short-term fluctuations and parents are encouraged not to take counterproductive measures such as forcing the child to eat.

“If the child is refusing a food what you should do is withdraw it and then introduce it at another time as a new food. If the child does not want any more or refuses a food, talk with the child and find out what it is. If they are not feeling well, if they don’t want any more right now or whatever but do not force the child to eat,” she advised. Ms. Edwards also recommended physical activity to maintain a healthy lifestyle balance for children as well as sufficient rest, all of which promote good appetite and normal growth.