News article

Young Children in Urban China Found to Have a Low Intake of Essential Nutrients

Posted:  Monday, November 16, 2015

Early childhood is a time when food preferences and dietary habits are being established. The dietary patterns established during this time often persist into adulthood and have implications for developing diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, later in life. Therefore, understanding young children’s diets can help health professionals develop specific strategies for improvement.

To date, the food sources of nutrients in young children in China have been little investigated. To gain a better understanding of the feeding patterns of young children in this region, a recent study investigated the major food sources of energy and nutrients among infants and toddlers. Data from the Maternal Infant Nutrition Growth (MING) study was used, in which a 24-hour dietary recall was collected from 1409 children (aged between 6 and 35 months of age) via face-to-face interviews with the primary caregivers. 

All food, beverages and dietary supplements that the children consumed on the previous day were recorded and processed. The study found that children in all three age groups received most of their energy (52 to 69%) from just a handful of foods including: infant formula or growing-up (fortified) milk, rice, noodles, pork and eggs. For infants, infant formula and breast milk were the primary and secondary sources of energy, followed by rice. For toddlers 12-23 months, growing up milks are the number one source of energy followed by rice. For toddlers 24-36 months, rice is the primary source of energy.

Rice and noodles were not only top sources of energy (17 to 26%) and carbohydrate (27 to 40%) but also top sources of protein (13 to 16%), iron (13 to 18%) and zinc (11 to 1%). Supplements made substantial contributions to intakes of vitamin A, zinc, iron and calcium. Salt added during home-cooking was the main source of sodium (60 to 80%). This study provides important insights into the core diets of young children in China and highlights that as a large proportion of energy comes from low-nutrient dense foods (rice and noodles), urban children are at risk of having an inadequate intake of some key nutrients. 

For Chinese infants, there is a risk of too little iron, selenium, folate, vitamin B6 and fat in the diet and for toddlers there is a risk of inadequate intake of vitamin B6 and fat, and also the risk of too much sodium.

The study concluded that the intake of more nutrient rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, milk and meat, should be encouraged. Information from this study could be used for the development of various public health strategies to improve diet quality and address nutrient shortfalls in the diets of this vulnerable population.