“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
— John F. Kennedy
Most individuals reading this article have been fortunate to experience a healthy upbringing and have had enough opportunities to thrive into successful adults. However, it is important to acknowledge that not all children can share the same circumstances and opportunities for growth and development.
Children’s health is essential for their immediate well-being and sets the stage for a healthy and fulfilling life as they grow into adulthood. It encompasses a broad range of physical, mental, and emotional aspects, contributing to their overall development and potential.
Through the following five points, YEAP aims to highlight important factors that are essential for facilitating a child’s healthy journey into adulthood. Additionally, this article tries to provide potential ideas and strategies to promote child health.
According to UNICEF child malnutrition has undergone a significant shift in recent decades. While undernutrition rates are declining globally, overweight and obesity rates are rapidly increasing. Nowadays, there are three forms of malnutrition – “Overweight, hidden hunger an undernutrition”, which often coexist. It is estimated that half of children below the age of five experience “hidden hunger,” a condition characterized by insufficient vital nutrients and frequently goes undetected. This combination of malnutrition poses a threat to children, economies, and societies, with no progress made in reducing overweight and obesity levels in the past 20 years. These forms of malnutrition often have long living consequences. Both children and adults who are obese face a higher likelihood of developing various health issues, including cardiovascular problems, respiratory problems like sleep apnea, and joint problems.
Childhood obesity is also correlated with psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, along with diminished self-esteem and a decrease in self-perceived quality of life. (1,2)
Daycare facilities and schools have an important impact on good nutrition for children. Children should have access to daily fresh and good quality food offering all the nutrients needed.
Another important factor is to establish healthy eating habits in children, as it is essential for their relationship with food. Parents can play an important role in teaching children to make nutritious choices, especially outside the family environment. Strategies such as regular family meals, educating about a balanced plate, choosing quality products, cooking and grocery shopping together, and by creating a pleasant atmosphere at the table can help children adopt healthy eating habits. (3,4)
Nationwide initiatives focused on promoting healthy food programs and raising awareness could assist parents in integrating these aspects into their daily lives.
Pediatricians play a crucial role in identifying signs of malnutrition during routine well-child checkups and should educate parents about its implications. If necessary, they can guide parents towards educational programs that provide valuable nutrition related information. Nationwide programs could offer food vouchers as a solution if malnutrition arises due to financial difficulties within families.
- Physical activity
As we all know regular physical activity in children offers a multitude of benefits across various domains.
Physical activity helps preventing obesity, with all its problematic consequences, by regulating body weight and reducing body fat. By meeting adequate levels of physical activity, children do not only have improved cardiovascular, metabolic, muscular, measures, physical activity also has a positive impact on bone strength, fostering growth and development.
Furthermore, engaging in physical activity enhances academic performance by improving attention and memory, while also reducing the risk of depression.
To encourage children’s participation in physical activity, it is important to provide age-appropriate, enjoyable, and varied activities. Moderate-intensity activities, characterized by a faster heart rate and breathing, could include walking to school, while vigorous-intensity activities involve significantly faster heart rate and harder breathing, such as running or playing tag during recess. Older adolescents can find joy in sports team practices and individual sports. (5, 6)
In younger children outdoor play, with its numerous benefits across different aspects of children’s development, provides another easy and enjoyable way to promote physical activity. Beyond enhancing physical health, outdoor play facilitates the development of motor skills, agility, balance, coordination, and overall physical strength. It fosters easier communication, self-awareness, appreciation for the environment, and improved peer-to-peer relationships. Outdoor play can also strengthen independence, self-reflection, and resilience, while stimulating brain development, decision-making, problem-solving, and organizational abilities. Moreover, spending time in nature during outdoor play positively impacts mental health by reducing the risk of mental illness, lowering stress and fatigue and can promote attention, relaxation, and concentration. (7)
Sufficient sleep is vital for children’s health and brain development. However, many children and adolescents are not getting enough sleep. This can lead to various health problems and negatively impact attention, behavior, and academic success. (8) Sleep hygiene despite its crucial importance, remains an overlooked aspect when it comes to promoting children’s health. Schools can have a positive impact on sleep hygiene with sleep education programs and delayed school start times. Parents can foster good sleep habits by setting regular bedtimes and limiting exposure to electronic devices. Also, we as pediatricians have an impact and should educate patients and parents about the importance of sleep and factors contributing to insufficient sleep in adolescents. (9)
- Mental and emotional well-being
When we think about mental health problems in children, we often picture an adolescent or maybe a child of school age, but even toddlers and babies can experience mental health problems. Emotional wellness refers to a child’s ability to regulate and express emotions, form relationships, and explore their environment in the context of family and community. Research shows that positive human connection is essential for a child’s development even before they learn academic skills. Early learning professionals in institutions like cribs, daycares and schools can support emotional wellness. They can build loving relationships with children, demonstrate problem-solving skills, educate parents and others. Furthermore, they create emotionally supportive environments, and use project-based learning. Understanding individual temperaments and cultural influences is also important. Prevention involves using appropriate assessment tools, having realistic expectations based on child development knowledge, and maintaining open communication with all involved parties. (10, 11) Early learning professionals can proactively address deficits in children by establishing contact with pediatricians, who can then refer them to child psychologists. This collaborative approach can enable the early identification and intervention of deficits in a child’s life and minimize its potential long-term impact.
- Hygiene and sanitation
No access to safe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices can lead to death in children. Worldwide many children die from diarrhea due to no access to proper sanitations and clean water. (12)
While a substantial number of European citizens presently enjoy convenient and affordable access to clean drinking water, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has led to the emergence of conflict zones even within Europe. Therefore, many children living in these areas are deprived of access to safe and clean water.
According to Unicef access to clean water is a human right and applies universally, regardless of stability or crisis, urban or rural settings, and across all countries worldwide. (13)
The UN General Assembly established the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) in 2010, which aims to ensure universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation until 2030. SDG 6 focuses on sustainable water resource management, wastewater treatment, and ecosystem preservation, recognizing the significance of creating an enabling environment. (14)
To achieve this, UNICEF has launched the WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) Strategy, aiming to provide water and sanitation for all by 2030. This strategy guides their planning, implementation, and program efforts. (15)
In conclusion, children’s health is a critical factor that impacts their immediate well-being and future potential. It encompasses various aspects such as nutrition, physical activity, sleep, mental and emotional well-being, and hygiene. Addressing these factors is essential for ensuring a healthy and fulfilling life for children as they grow into adulthood. By prioritizing children’s health and taking proactive measures, such as promoting healthy food programs, encouraging physical activity, ensuring sufficient sleep, supporting mental and emotional well-being, and advocating for improved hygiene and sanitation, we can create a brighter future for children worldwide. As John F. Kennedy said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” Let us work together to protect and nurture their health and well-being.
- The changing face of malnutrition. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://features.unicef.org/state-of-the-worlds-children-2019-nutrition/
- Consequences of Obesity | Overweight & Obesity | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/basics/consequences.html
- Mahmood, L., Flores-Barrantes, P., Moreno, L. A., Manios, Y., & Gonzalez-Gil, E. M. (2021). The influence of parental dietary behaviors and practices on children’s eating habits. Nutrients, 13(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/NU13041138/S1
- Children and Healthy Nutrition: Five Tips for Parents | UNICEF. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.unicef.org/ukraine/en/stories/children-healthy-nutrition
- Health Benefits of Physical Activity for Children | Physical Activity Basics | Physical Activity | DNPAO | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/health-benefits-of-physical-activity-for-children.html
- How much physical activity do children need? | Physical Activity | DNPAO | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm
- 6 Benefits of Outdoor Play For Children & Their Development. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.miracle-recreation.com/blog/why-should-my-child-play-outside-benefits-of-outdoor-play-for-kids/?lang=can
- Children’s sleep linked to brain development | National Institutes of Health (NIH). (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/children-s-sleep-linked-brain-development#:~:text=The%20researchers%20found%20that%20children,aggressive%20behavior%2C%20and%20thinking%20problems.
- Alfonsi, V., Scarpelli, S., D’Atri, A., Stella, G., & de Gennaro, L. (2020). Later School Start Time: The Impact of Sleep on Academic Performance and Health in the Adolescent Population. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(7). https://doi.org/10.3390/IJERPH17072574
- Emotional wellness: Understanding its importance — Better Kid Care — Penn State Extension. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/emotional-wellness-understanding-its-importance
- Sancassiani, F., Pintus, E., Holte, A., Paulus, P., Moro, M. F., Cossu, G., Angermeyer, M. C., Carta, M. G., & Lindert, J. (2015). Enhancing the Emotional and Social Skills of the Youth to Promote their Wellbeing and Positive Development: A Systematic Review of Universal School-based Randomized Controlled Trials. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH, 11(Suppl 1 M2), 21. https://doi.org/10.2174/1745017901511010021
- Over 300,000 children under five died from diarrhoeal diseases linked to limited access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in 2015 – UNICEF. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.unicef.org/turkiye/en/node/2296
- Water | UNICEF. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.unicef.org/wash/water
- Water and Sanitation – United Nations Sustainable Development. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/
- Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) | UNICEF. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://www.unicef.org/wash