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Good nutrition during childhood and adolescence is essential for growth and development, health and well-being, and the prevention of some chronic diseases. Yet many children's diets fall considerably short of recommended dietary standards. Furthermore, poor diet and physical inactivity, resulting in an energy imbalance. The major nutrition issues among children are nutrient deficiency diseases, on one hand whereas in other cases certain concerns like obesity, which is due to overconsumption, poor dietary quality, and food choices.


During childhood and adolescence, good nutrition and dietary behaviors are important to achieve full growth potential and appropriate body composition, to promote health and well-being, and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood. Children require sufficient energy, protein, and other nutrients for growth as well as maintenance of body functions. Nutrient needs tend to parallel rates of growth. Growth continues at a steady rate during childhood, then accelerates during adolescence, creating increases in nutrient needs to support the rapid growth rate and increase in lean body mass and body size. During puberty, adolescents achieve the final 15 to 20 percent of stature, gain 50 percent of adult body weight, and accumulate up to 40 percent of skeletal mass. Inadequate intakes of energy, protein, or certain micronutrients will be reflected in slow growth rates, inadequate bone mass, and low body reserves of micronutrients.

In addition to the impact on growth and development, children's diets are important to ensure overall health and well-being. Dietary practices of children and adolescents affect their risk for a number of health problems, including obesity, iron deficiency, and dental caries. Inadequate nutrition also lowers resistance to infectious disease, and may adversely affect the ability to function at peak mental and physical ability.

There is concern about long-term health as certain dietary patterns, developed in childhood and carried into adulthood, result in an increased risk for chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer later in life. Some of the physiological processes that lead to diet-related chronic diseases have their onset during childhood. For example, studies indicate that the process of atherosclerosis begins in childhood.

Dietary patterns are influenced by behavioral choices and environmental factors. It may be easier to change children's health behavior than adults' behavior. Childhood offers the opportunity to provide the solid foundation needed for healthful lifelong eating patterns.

Appropriate discretionary energy provided as snacks for elementary school children would range between 124 and 169 calories; for middle school children, between 163 and 236 calories, and for high school students, between 210 and 294 calories.

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