Between the ages of three and five years old, children are experiencing a critical period of growth and development. Preschoolers are becoming more independent and learning to rely less on their caregivers and more on themselves. At this age children are transitioning to making their own decisions, including food choices and eating behaviors. Children are more likely to choose foods based on self-satisfaction and gratification instead of nutritional value, which can become an issue if not addressed in the early stages. Early exposure to health and nutrition-related concepts can set our children up for making healthy food choices and developing healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives!
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In 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimated that globally 43 million preschool-age children were overweight or obese and 92 million were at risk for becoming overweight (de Onis, Blossner & Borghi, 2010). Data from a 2006 study reveals that 69.1% of preschool children have “unbalanced diets” (Kim & Kim, 2006). These children preferred snacks like pizza, fried foods, candy and soft drinks Data from a 2006 study reveals that 69.1% of preschool children have “unbalanced diets” (Kim & Kim, 2006). Foods with high sugar levels can lead to children having abnormal cholesterol levels, higher triglyceride levels and are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, which can all lead to greater health issues later in life (AAFP, 2020).
Preschool- age children are experiencing increased development of neural plasticity, working memory, attention, and inhibitory control (Rosales, Reznick & Zeisel, 2013). Children learn from their direct experiences and interactions with their environments, more specifically they are learning from adults. Adults, inside and outside of school, are responsible for providing children with the information they need to succeed as they grow and learn. Making food choices, eating behaviors, understanding what to eat and why we eat certain foods are all elements of this learning process that children are beginning to understand. By exposing children to the importance of health and nutrition at an early age, we can set them up to make healthier food choices as they grow and later in life.
De Onis, M., Blossner, M. & Borghi, E. (2010). Global prevalence and trends of overweight andobesity among preschool children. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92(5), 1257-1264. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2010.29786
Kim, H.-K. & Kim, J.-H. (2006). A preliminary study on nutrition education for preschoolchildren in day-care center – Dietary habit and nutrition knowledge. Journal of the Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition, 35(7), 866-873. https://doi.org/10.3746/jkfn.2006.35.7.866
Rosales, F. J., Reznick, J. S. & Zeisel, S. H. (2013). Understanding the role of nutrition in thebrain and behavioral development of toddlers and preschool children: identifying andaddressing methodological barriers. An International Journal of Nutrition, Diet and Nervous System, 12(5), 190-202.https://doi.org/10.1179/147683009X423454