A New Childhood Health Issue: Overweight but Undernourished

If a child is overweight, it is easy to assume that he is getting more than enough of his daily recommended nutrients… right?  The answer is, not always.   Even if a child appears to be well-nourished or over-nourished, this does not mean that he actually has proper nutrient status from a physiological perspective.overweight kids

What nutrients might be lacking and why?

CalciumChildhood and drinking milk are often thought to go hand-in-hand. But many kids avoid milk and instead drink juice or sweetened beverages with little nutritional value. Other food sources of calcium might not be at the top of most kids’ lists, such as dark leafy greens, beans, tofu, and quinoa.

Inadequate calcium intake can cause the following problems:

  • In combination with excess weight bearing on a child’s developing bones, a lack of calcium can put kids at risk for fractures and joint problems.
  • A lack of calcium in childhood can cause a diminished reserve of calcium in later life.  Calcium is used in the body for blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve signal conduction processes.  Calcium also works to buffer acid-base balance in the blood. It is stored in the bones, and pulled out from the bones for these functions. Your body stockpiles calcium from the diet into the bones much more effectively during childhood and the young adult years than after age 30.

IronAfter discussing calcium, let’s say you have a child who absolutely loves milk and dairy products. Let’s say he consumes way more than the recommended 12-24 oz of milk or other dairy per day, and he has substantial amounts of dairy at practically every meal and snack. During digestion, calcium and iron ride the same “carrier” to be absorbed from the gut to the bloodstream. However, calcium always competitively inhibits iron during this process, which means that it blocks iron absorption. These children, along with others who do not consume adequate iron through food sources, can be at risk for iron deficiency anemia.  Blood tests can diagnose iron deficiency anemia.

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include:

  • Low energy
  • Pale skin tone
  • Dark circles under the eyes

Folate and B12Folate is found in greens and beans-two things not all kids love. It is important for cell production, which is occurring at a rapid rate during periods of growth (like all of childhood). B12 is found in animal products like meat, eggs and milk. It is important to note that B12 requires specific digestive factors to be absorbed, and these are not always functioning properly, especially in kids with gastrointestinal problems.

The following may occur if a child is deficient in folate or B12:

  • Megaloblastic anemia, a different type of anemia than occurs with iron deficiency.
  • A deficiency can also have serious, negative effects on the brain and nervous system.

ZincThis mineral is found a variety of foods, such as red meat, poultry, beans, and fortified breakfast cereals.  Kids who stick to refined carbs and highly processed foods may be lacking zinc.

Zinc is key for these bodily functions:

  •  Immune function
  •  Wound healing
  •  Cell division
  • The ability to smell and taste things properly

These nutrients are only a few of many that may be inadequate for kids who are not eating healthy foods, even those who are overweight or obese. Eating excessive calories does not equate to consuming enough of the specific nutrients our kids’ bodies require for health, development, and proper functioning.  Click here to learn more about a parent’s role in creating healthy eaters.  To talk to one of our pediatric dietitians, call us at 877-486-4140.