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Children’s deficiency of multiple nutrients is bad for their health

Children’s deficiency of multiple nutrients is bad for their healthThe quality of the diet plays a particularly great role in the first years of a child’s life. The different nutrients help prevent obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases later in life. However, modern diet and lifestyle have resulted in widespread deficiency of vitamin D, iodine, iron, calcium, and magnesium among children, and that has had serious consequences for their physical and mental health, according to a large German study published in Frontiers in Nutrition. The scientists therefore recommend increased focus on the nutritional status of children and supplementation throughout childhood, if necessary.

During the period where a child grows and develops, it is vital for it to get plenty of all the nutrients that are important for things like bones, thyroid function, immune defense, cognitive skills, and many other functions. Apparently, children who have an adequate nutrient intake in their first years of life have a lower risk of health problems like overweight, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic ailments later in life.
Children are particularly likely to lack important nutrients because their nutrient need per kilogram of body weight is comparatively high. The obesity epidemic currently affects eight percent of European children under the age of five years and 29 percent of those between the ages of five and nine years. This alarming development is chiefly a result of children consuming far too many sugar-containing cereal product, white bread, pizza, soft drinks, candy, cakes and cookies, unhealthy plant oils and other empty calories that are devoid of fiber and nutrients. Also, the intake of fish, vegetables, and fruit is too low.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has revealed that lack of vitamin D, iron, and iodine (in some countries) is particularly common among children under the age of three. Still, there is not a lot of information about preschoolers in the ages 3-5 years. Therefore, the new German study wanted to take a look closer at this segment.

Many children lack vitamin D and several minerals

The scientists based their research on a large national German nutrition study called KiESEL (Kinder-Ernährungsstudie zur Erfassung des Lebensmittelverzehr) that was carried out in the period between 2014-2017. The researchers collected relevant data about the diets of children aged six months to five years, including their intake of nutritional supplements. The data, which is based on questionnaires and other information sources, shows the children’s intake of calories (carbohydrates, fats, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
The scientists compared the children’s nutrient intake with the nutritional needs established by EFSA. The study also looked at the difference between nutrient intake in small children (aged six months to two years) and preschoolers (aged three to five years), and they also looked at the difference between the two genders with regard to nutrient intake.
They found that small children and preschoolers had a calorie intake that was too high. The vitamin D intake was too low in six to nine percent of the participants (also among those who took supplements), while 57-85 percent of the participants lacked iodine. There were particularly many small children (75%) who got too little iron, and disproportionately many preschoolers (67-77%) got too little calcium. Lack of magnesium and copper was also widespread, and the children generally got too little dietary fiber.
The researchers concluded that diets that are not sufficiently balanced, and the lack of nutrients among small children and preschoolers is troubling. They also encourage more focus on vitamin D and say that children should be given supplements of vitamin D for longer time than officially recommended. Moreover, it is important to use iodine-enriched table salt and to reduce the intake of unhealthy fats. The children’s intake of selenium was not studied, and the same goes for omega-3 fatty acids, which are mainly found in oily fish. Other studies have shown that there is widespread deficiency of these nutrients among children and that this can damage their physical and mental health.


Leoni Burgard et al. Unfavorable nutrient intakes in children up to school entry age: results from the nationwide German KiESEL study. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2023

Jessie L Burns et al. Intakes of PUFA are low in preschool-aged children in the Guelph Family Health Study pilot cohort. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 2022.

Jones GD et al. Selenium deficiency risk predicted to increase under future climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2017

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