Effects of Poor Diet in Children
Children who consume a poor diet often suffer negative consequences. Short-term malnutrition can sometimes be reversed, but some effects of a poor diet in children can be permanent 1. Keep in mind that proper nourishment is more than just meeting daily caloric needs. Johns Hopkins Children’s Center reports that malnutrition in U.S. children is more often caused by dietary imbalances, rather than nutritional deficiencies 1.
Low Energy Levels
Kids who don’t get proper nutrition -- that is eating too few calories or eating an unbalanced diet -- often experience fatigue, according to KidsHealth.org. They may exhibit mental fatigue and problems concentrating at school. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests that kids ages 2 to 3 consume 1,000 to 1,400 calories daily, and children ages 4 to 8 get 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day, depending on gender and activity level 3. In many cases, malnourished children with fatigue who start getting proper nutrition experience boosts in energy levels.
Kids who are chronically malnourished can become underweight, have decreased muscle mass and even experience a delayed growth rate. MedlinePlus reports that children who consume too little dietary protein in the longterm may never reach their full growth potential -- meaning they could end up with a shorter stature in adulthood 4. To make sure your child is growing and developing at an appropriate pace, see a pediatrician who can track growth on a pediatric growth chart.
Overweight and Obesity
Children who don’t get proper nutrition but consume too many overall daily calories, especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle, are at risk for becoming overweight or obese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that obese kids are more likely to have pre-diabetes, risk factors for heart disease, joint and bone problems, difficulty sleeping, poor self-esteem and social problems at school 5. They also are more likely to become obese adults. To help prevent overweight and obesity, encourage your child to get at least 1 hour of physical activity daily.
Nutrition deficiencies can lead to nutrient-specific side effects in children. For example, getting too little dietary calcium can cause a child’s bones to become weak and break easily. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness and a weak immune system; iron deficiency causes fatigue and trouble focusing at school; and iodine deficiency can lead to delayed development in kids. Vitamin D deficiency, meanwhile, can cause soft bones and skeletal deformities. A well-balanced diet including all food groups, plus a multivitamin supplement, helps prevent nutrient deficiencies in children.
- Johns Hopkins Children’s Center: Malnutrition
- KidsHealth.org: Hunger and Malnutrition
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Balance Food and Activity
- MedlinePlus: Kwashiorkor
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Childhood Obesity Facts
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D
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