Poor Eating Habits Lead to Nutrient Gaps in Children

July 15, 2015

CHICAGO— Nutrient gaps exist in all ages of children under 18 but adolescents and food insecure children are at greatest risk because of their eating habits, according to a July 14 presentation at IFT15: Where Science Feeds Innovation hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in Chicago.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for improving the nutrients of U.S. children,” said Heather Eicher-Miller, PhD of Purdue University. “Adolescents are most at risk because in that age stage, there’s more independent choice in food as they are not relying on parents to make their dietary choices and because of their increased growth, they could suffer the consequences for having nutrient gaps.”

Miller and her colleagues at Purdue University conducted a comprehensive review of selected research on nutrient gaps in children over the last 10 years and their findings were published this year. These nutrient gaps were determined by a complete dietary assessment to gauge what children were missing in their diets. They also studied research of children in food insecure, or food insufficient, households. Many of these children were also at high risk, however, Miller said more nationally representative studies need to be completed for this group.

Their research found U.S. children exhibited the following nutrient gaps:
  • 0-12 months: Missing such essential vitamins as D and E
  • 1-3 years: Missing vitamins D, E, K and fiber
  • 4-8 years: Missing vitamin E and K
  • 9-13 years: Females showed nutrient gaps in vitamin A, D, E and K but also in magnesium and potassium while males were deficient in vitamins D and E.
  • 14-18 years: Females missing vitamins A, C, D, E as well as zinc, potassium, magnesium and calcium while males were deficient in A, C, D, E, calcium and magnesium.
“Supplements could be more effective if used in the older age group,” Miller said of adolescents, but added there are other groups who may benefit from supplements as well. “Supplement use is higher among children who are already eating a good diet and whose parents are higher income and have more resources but they may be missing the group who needs them most and have the most disparities.”

That group of U.S. children is categorized as food insecure and includes children who are often skipping meals or consuming low-energy meals. Miller said food insecurity is represented in 14.3 percent of all U.S. households and the national goal is to reduce it to 6 percent by 2020.

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