New nutrition guidelines for children out today

By Amanda Johnson 06/08/2012

The Ministry of Health has today published the latest report in their series of Food and Nutrition Guidelines; this report is all about healthy children and young people from the ages of 2 to 18 years.

Children and young people in New Zealand represent a quarter of the population. Making sure our children follow a good healthy balanced diet will promote normal growth and development and will contribute to optimal health as they move through childhood and into adulthood.

The key recommendations in the report include consuming a balance of different foods from the four main food groups (wholegrain breads and cereals; vegetables and fruits; lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes and nuts; and low-fat milk and dairy foods). It also recommends the preparation of foods, snacks and drinks that are low in fat, salt and sugar. Children and young people should have plenty of fluids to drink during the day (water and lower-fat milks are the best choices; sugary drinks should be limited). Energy drinks are not recommended, and children under 13 should not drink coffee or tea. Older children should limit coffee and tea to one to two cups a day.

The report also advises encouraging children to get involved in shopping, growing food and cooking family meals.

Of course, physical activity is also very important for kids, and 60 minutes a day of activity is recommended while limiting sedentary pursuits to less than two hours a day.

I think it is interesting that the report highlights a number of concerns in relation to intake of food and nutrients among this age group. For example, children and young people in New Zealand are consuming foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS foods) regularly. 85% of children consume potato chips, corn snacks or chips at least once a week, and nearly 50% of children consume chocolate, confectionary, fancy biscuits and soft drinks at least once a week. HFSS foods and drinks should not be thought of as ‘everyday’ foods and should be limited to less than once a week.

Intake of certain nutrients was found to be low in some children. Among children aged 5-14 years, prevalence of inadequate intake of folate was estimated to be 37%; among girls aged 9-14 years the figure was 64%. Calcium intakes were also a concern, with prevalence of inadequate intakes among children ages 5-14 years estimated to be 65%. Inadequate iron intakes were a concern among girls aged 15-18 years. An estimated 34% of girls in this age group had inadequate iron intakes, with a higher estimated prevalence of inadequate intakes among Maori (49%) and Pacific (40%) girls.

There is clearly a need to re-balance the diets of some children and young people. The publication of this report provides a timely opportunity for anyone involved with raising and caring for children in New Zealand to review the children’s eating habits and to promote the consumption of healthy, nutrient-dense foods, while limiting the intake of high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt ‘treat’ foods.

Practical guidelines for the public are also available with a new resource on healthy eating for children aged 2-12 years and one for teenagers (age 13 to 18 years).

The full report Food And Nutrition Guidelines For Healthy Children And Young People (Ages 2-18 Years) A background paper is now available on the Ministry of Health website. It’s an excellent and very comprehensive report and I would highly recommend it to anyone with involvement or interest in the food and nutrient consumption of New Zealand children.