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The importance of nutrition in foster children.

Foster carers must have a comprehensive understanding of the nutritional requirements of the children in their care. The nutritional values of food have an impact both on the health and behaviour of a child. Too much processed food can have significant effects on overall health during childhood and adolescence. The following are health concerns processed food has been linked to in children:

  • Type-2 Diabetes  Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes blood sugar levels to become too high. Processed foods contribute to insulin resistance. This is because of their high-levels of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs).
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) –  ADHD is a group of behaviours that include hyperactivity, inattention, and impetuosity. The National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published research on Restriction and Elimination Diets in ADHD Treatment. It found that children with ADHD who eliminated processed food exhibited a significant decrease in ADHD symptoms. 
  • Autism –  Research published in Clinical Epigenetics has found that consuming large amounts of artificial sweeteners, like high-fructose corn syrup, causes mineral deficiencies. Mineral deficiencies can contribute to autism spectrum disorders.

Monitoring the nutritional values of food is essential to promoting good-health in foster children. The amount of food eaten is less important. Most nutritional information is available on the labelling in food packaging. It is important to encourage a diverse and adventurous diet. Alongside a balanced diet, it is important for children to remain active. The following are the top nutritional tips to keep your foster child in good physical shape:

  • Eat a wide range of foods – Foster children often come from homes of neglect. Because of their disrupted upbringing, their diet will have suffered. It is important to introduce them to new and healthier foods. Eating a wide range of foods will also ensure that children are getting the variety of nutrients necessary for growth. 
  • Choose a diet low in saturated fats – High-levels of saturated fat is linked to increased blood cholesterol levels and a greater risk of heart disease.
  • Choose a diet that provides enough calcium and iron – Iron is important for children, particularly during periods of accelerated growth. Iron is essential to the production of blood and the building of muscles. Meat and cereals are excellent sources of iron. Calcium is important for the growth and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Calcium deficiencies can lead to fragile and porous bones. This could contribute towards osteoporosis later in life. Calcium is found in low-fat milk and other dairy products.
  • Balance diet with physical activity – Physical activity is essential to the development of children. It helps to achieve a healthy weight, in addition to promoting the growth of strong muscles and bones. Furthermore, outdoor-based activities increase exposure to sunlight, helping to stimulate the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D aids in development and helps to maintain strong bones.

Foster children can enter care with bad eating habits. Children from a background of neglect will have had disrupted meal-times and might not have encountered certain foods before. Anxiety will also impact upon their appetite. Many will never have had a healthy balanced diet before. Poor diet is the leading cause of death in Britain. It costs the NHS £6 billion a year to treat and one-in-five children leave primary school obese. Alternatively, some children enter foster care with eating disorders characterized by low body weight. Such as anorexia or bulimia. This is a serious mental health issue and can be triggered by traumatic events or stress. In encouraging a healthy diet, it is important to be patient and do not expect quick results. If you think a child in your care is suffering from an eating disorder seek further advice from a GP.