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The Benefits of Eating Healthy Foods as a Child

Children need healthy foods because their bodies require the nutrients to grow. A child who is given healthy foods will receive a lifetime bonus of a stronger mind and body. A child who is deprived of healthy foods or given too many unhealthy foods can face decades of physical and mental health problems.

Children's Bodies

Before birth and for the first eight years after birth, children's bodies develop at a rapid pace. For example, new teeth and bones require calcium, which can be provided by milk, yogurt and cheese. Children have more water in their bodies than adults do, and need more liquids so they will not become dehydrated. Children's brain cells develop thousands of connections and a protective sheath, myelin, grows around developing nerves throughout their bodies. Children need iron in their diets, which can be found in foods such as tuna and whole wheat bread, so their bodies can manufacture myelin.

Not Enough Food

Scientists have been studying a group of Dutch citizens whose mothers were pregnant with them during a World War II winter famine in 1944-45, in an effort to understand what happens when children don't receive healthy foods. The Nazi armies blocked food deliveries to German-occupied sections of the Netherlands during an unusually cold winter to punish the Dutch resistance to the German occupation. These children had an elevated death rate during their first year of life. As adults, this population displayed abnormally high levels of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, mental illness, drug addiction and kidney damage. The restoration of food supplies after the famine was over could not compensate for the prenatal damage inflicted on the children by starving their pregnant mothers.

Unhealthy Foods

Another illustration of the benefits of healthy foods for children is the consequences that occur when children are fed unhealthy foods or allowed to eat too much. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, "Childhood Obesity," notes that the number of overweight teens has tripled since 1980. These teenagers are making unhealthy choices, such as regularly consuming soda and French fries -- a diet high in sugar and saturated fats. As obese adults, they are developing high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, asthma and other health problems.

Healthy Eating Habits

Parents can give children healthy foods, but because older children spend so much unsupervised time with their peers, it is important to teach children about the benefits of healthy eating when they are young, so they will seek out healthy foods on their own as teens and adults. Many websites teach parents how to educate children about healthy eating habits, including Helpguide.org and Girlshealth.gov. Other websites are kid-friendly and designed to teach children directly about the benefits of healthy eating, such as "Ready, Set, Breakfast!" sponsored by the Nemours Foundation and the "Bam!" interactive children's food and nutrition site created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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