A lifetime of good nutrition and health should start when a child is born. Paying attention to a child’s nutritional needs from birth through age 18 is important since early nutrition sets the stage for a person’s eating habits when they are older. Because children grow rapidly, it can be especially important for them to follow good nutritional habits.
Early Nutritional Needs
A child will usually triple their body weight within their first year of life. Without the food and nutrition they need, their growth and development could be hampered. Without the proper amounts of carbohydrates in the diet, the muscles, brain, central nervous system and liver could suffer. If a child doesn’t receive enough protein in their diet, it could cause a failure to grow as well as a decrease in muscle mass. Fats are also important in a child’s diet, not because the body cannot function properly without the right amount of essential fatty acids, but also because a child needs fat as an energy source.
It is also important to develop good eating habits early in life to avoid problems with obesity. Some children also have special dietary needs even when they are babies, due to metabolism problems or food allergies. By identifying and treating these issues early through proper nutrition, the chances of more serious problems developing later in life can be lessened.
Proper Nutrition as a Child Grows
Although many people think of pediatric nutrition as being focused on babies, it also focuses on the nutritional needs of a child from the time they are born through age 18. As a child grows, they will go through many dietary transitions as they try new foods. Children can also go through phases where they become “picky eaters,” which can be challenging for parents. Although in many cases the best practice is allowing a child’s appetite to dictate their food intake, there also needs to be a continual vigilance against obesity.
There are special dietary challenges as a child enters adolescence, especially since teens often develop a sense of their body image during this stage. If a teen starts to restrict their food intake too much in order to try to lose weight or stay thin, they could become deficient in nutrients or even develop a dangerous eating disorder such as anorexia.
The Role of a Pediatric Dietician
Pediatric dieticians are trained to work with children from birth through age 18 to insure that they get the nutrition they need in order to grow and develop properly. They are basically clinical dieticians specializing in the needs of children. Pediatric dieticians often work closely with doctors, school health systems, clinics, hospitals and government agencies. Doctors often refer children to a pediatric dietician as part of a treatment plan for children with eating disorders, food allergies, or any condition where a child’s diet factors into the equation.
Services Provided by a Pediatric Dietician
A pediatric dietician can evaluate a child’s needs and develop a nutritional program which will fit their exact requirements, taking into account any health conditions or special circumstances that might exist. They often work with children and teenagers who have food allergy issues to find dietary programs that fit within their restrictions while still providing adequate nutrition. They can help children deal with eating disorders, usually working in conjunction with a physician or counselor. They also help children and teenagers who have issues with obesity, helping them to lose weight safely while insuring that their diet contains all the nutrients their growing bodies require.
In the case of children under the age of 18, working with a pediatric dietician is preferred over working with a general nutritionist, even though they might have similar levels of dietary experience, because a pediatric dietician will better understand the needs of children.