To gain a better understanding of what is required to achieve healthy diets for children and adolescents within planetary boundaries, EAT (a science-based platform for food system transformation) and UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) gathered experts from several universities, and organizations for a dedicated workshop on the topic in March 2020. Participants reviewed the latest evidence on healthy and sustainable diets for children and adolescents, identified research gaps and opportunity areas for action, and explored the role children and adolescents can play in advancing food systems transformation.
Children Eating Well (CHEW)
Experts agreed that the Children Eating Well (CHEW) agenda is at the heart of the sustainable diets guidelines and that children’s nutritional needs should be positioned at the center of food systems transformations for healthy and sustainable diets.
In food system transformations for children, creating improved food environments should be a major priority. In line with this, the experts focused on developing approaches on affordability, policies, and multi-sectoral collaboration:
- Affordability of safe, nutritious, and adequate foods is as a determining factor of healthy growth and development in children and youth.
- Public policies play a crucial role in shaping food environments for children. These were categorized into four determinants: food supply chains, external food environments, personal food environments, and behaviors of caregivers, children and adolescents.
- Collaboration across sectors and scales is key to supporting food systems transformation to enable children and youth to adopt healthy and sustainable diets.
A needed adaptation of the guidelines for children
Available data and metrics should be also improved to measure diet quality and its links with health-related outcomes and sustainability.
In addition, given children’s high nutritional needs, further exploring the applicability of the EAT-Lancet reference diet to children and adolescents was identified as a future research priority. Children require a varied nutrient-dense diet to meet their high nutrient needs. Infants and young children should be breastfed following international recommendations and receive adequate, safe, and nutrient-dense complementary foods beginning at 6 months of age while continuing breastfeeding. For children, animal-source foods are important sources of nutrients, especially where overall diet quality is low. For all age groups, consumption of animal-source foods should be at level that is required for nutrition, but not above levels required environmental sustainability.
An ambitious agenda
Given the scale and scope of the challenges that lie ahead, the organisers call for an extensive mobilization of all sectors of society to ensure children and adolescents’ right to healthy diets and a sustainable environment is fulfilled.
The next UN Food Systems Summit and the preparatory processes leading up to the Summit were identified as important opportunities to mobilise global efforts. EAT and UNICEF will work towards ensuring that the special needs of children and adolescents will be taken into account during the Summit. Further opportunities for advocacy and engagement will also be explored.