Nutrition in school-age children: a rationale for revisiting priorities

Jose M Saavedra

Middle childhood and early adolescence have received disproportionately low levels of scientific attention relative to other life stages, especially as related to nutrition and health. This is partly due to the justified emphasis on the first 1000 days of life, and the idea that early deficits and consequences may not be fully reversible. In addition, these stages of life may superficially appear less “eventful” than infancy or late adolescence. Finally, there has been historical ambiguity and inconsistency in terminology, depending on whether viewing “childhood” through physiologic, social, legal, or other lenses. Nevertheless, this age bracket, which encompasses most of the primary education and basic schooling years for most individuals, is marked by significant changes, inflection points, and sexually driven divergence in somatic and brain growth and development trajectories. These constitute transfor- mative changes, and thus middle childhood and early adolescence represents a major and last opportunity to influence long-term health and productivity.

This review highlights the specificities of growth and development in school age, with a focus on middle childhood and early adolescence (5 years–15 years of age, for the purposes of this review), the role of nutrition, the short- and long-term consequences of inadequate nutrition, and the current global status of nutrition in this age group. Adequate attention and emphasis on nutrition in the school-age years is critical: (a) for maintaining an adequate course of somatic and cognitive development, (b) for taking advantage of this last major opportunity to correct deficits of undernutrition and “catch-up” to normal life course development, and (c) for addressing the nutri- tional inadequacies and mitigating the longer-term consequences of overnutrition. This review summarizes and provides a rationale for prioritizing nutrition in school- age children, and for the need to revisit priorities and focus on this part of the life cycle to maximize individuals’ potential and their contribution to society.

Source: Jose M Saavedra, Andrew M Prentice, Nutrition in school-age children: a rationale for revisiting priorities, Nutrition Reviews, 2022;, nuac089,