Experts have observed for years that malnourished girls and boys are more vulnerable to having problems in their physical, mental and psychosocial development. Precisely, the first three years of life constitute a critical period for development, of people’s social, cognitive and emotional skills. What happens at those ages is decisive for their well-being for the rest of life. According to Yumaira Chacón, medical manager at Abbott, the first two to three years of life, brain growth is rapid, making nutrition critical for cognitive development.
The connection between mood and food
Food can also be important for mental health. Nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B6, and choline are required to synthesize certain brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that regulate mood and memory. A neurotransmitter imbalance is often associated with mood-related conditions such as anxiety and depression
That is not the only way that food can impact the emotional health of youth and children. A diet that is lacking in essential nutrients can also alter the way the body burns fat, carbohydrates, and calories, which can lead to being overweight or obesity.
According to Chacón, staying overweight can increase the chances that in the future, a child will develop chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease; it also comes at an emotional cost, as overweight children are more likely to experience bullying and depression.
How to make healthy habits a reality
If the concern is that children have not received the nutrition they need for optimal growth and development of their brain, research shows that it is possible to catch up. “When a child only eats certain foods or refuses to eat, it can negatively affect family dynamics,” said Dr. Chacón, who also provided a series of tips that can solve bad eating habits.
Tips to help solve a child’s bad eating habits
a)During meals, children should be offered their favorite foods, but also include new options.
b)Consistently offering new foods without pressuring the child is the key,
c)Understanding that accepting new foods takes time, but with patience it is achieved.
d)Keep in mind that everyone has foods they do like and some they don’t.
e)If the child refuses to eat what is on the table, do not give up. Sometimes to achieve acceptance of a new food it takes up to 10 exposures to it.
f)If there is a rejection of entire food groups, the use of the nutritional supplements may be useful.
g)Provide your child with healthy snacks to fill in nutrient gaps throughout the day.