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Childhood Nutrition Trends 2022, According to a Pediatric Nutritionist

What are the nutrition trends in 2022 for kids? Read on to see what this pediatric nutritionist predicts as this year’s leading childhood nutrition trends.

As someone who’s been a pediatric dietitian for 30+ years, I’ve watched trends come and go. I’ve also seen a lot of research evolve in the field of pediatric nutrition, and with that, alterations in our practices and the advice that’s given about nutrition for kids.

For example, the way we think about and handle food allergies is entirely different than our management of it 20 years ago. Back then, we avoided allergens in the early years of a child’s life. Now, research has evolved, especially in peanut and egg allergy, and we introduce food allergens before age one.

There are many examples of how nutrition trends and science evolve in the world of kid’s nutrition.

In the spirt of all the New Year’s posts that predict food and nutrition trends for the coming year, I’m sharing what I think will be the childhood nutrition trends as we move into 2022.

Childhood nutrition trends 2022, according to Jill Castle, a pediatric nutritionist.

Food and nutrition trends for the new year are always an engaging topic. While I think about this often, this is the first time I’ve written about my child nutrition predictions.

I like to look at nutrition trends because it helps me prepare for the New Year in terms of content, new products and where I can anticipate media requests.

I’m basing the following 6 nutrition trends for 2022 on what I’m seeing percolating in the research and in the media.

Brain Development and Brain Health

Right before the pandemic hit and before the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) were published, the research about nutrition and brain development was building up, especially in infants. From the role of nutrients on brain development like iron or omega-3 DHA, an increased interest around optimizing brain development in the infancy stage was afoot.

Now we have the 2020 DGA which formalized some of this research into practical population guidelines, especially for the birth to 24 months population. Exciting stuff!

As we contemplate brain-based conditions like autism and ADHD, nutrition for concussions, and mental health, I predict we’ll see more research around enhancing brain health in the childhood years.

Gut Health

Gut health has been trending in adults for years. Yet, research in infant gut health tells us that this topic is just as exciting. Did you know that the gut is seeded with healthy bacteria from the day we’re born? Our gut microbiome is nearly set for life by age three.

The balance of healthy to unhealthy bacteria changes in relation to the foods children eat, the medications they take, and more. From combatting constipation to metabolic conditions like obesity, the gut microbiome has been shown to influence our health, including our children’s.

I predict we’ll see more study and emphasis on gut health in toddlers, children, and teens in the future.

For more information about the infant microbiome, listen to my interview with Dr. Noel Mueller about his work on the infant gut.  

Fatherhood

Moms have traditionally been the focus of childhood nutrition education, messaging, and advertisements. This made sense, but times are changing. According to a Pew Research study, 16% of fathers were stay-at-home dads and taking a more active role in the caregiving of their children in 2016. The pandemic has surely increased these numbers, offering fathers an inside view of the day-to-day dynamics of raising children.

As fathers are increasingly involved in feeding and making nutrition decisions for their kids, more efforts to connect with, educate and support them in this role will be needed.

[Related: My podcast interview with the Dad’s Dietitian, Dezi Abeyta.]

Body Diversity and Body Dignity

The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement teaches us to embrace all body shapes and sizes. I expect (and hope) body diversity and acceptance will continue to gain traction in the childhood space.

Let’s blast this from the rooftop: All bodies are good bodies – even children’s bodies — no matter their size or shape.

I predict an increased focus on body acceptance in schools, homes, and other areas where children live and play. I hope we all embrace the concept of body dignity, or a child’s expectation that they will be treated with fairness, respect, and inclusion in all areas of their lives. When children expect to be treated well by others, we can strengthen the push back on bias, bullying and stigma.

Childhood Wellness

With statistics indicating an ongoing rise in childhood obesity, especially influenced by the pandemic, researchers, experts, and parents are looking for ways to raise children who are healthy both physically and emotionally. They want a path that is holistic, integrated, and free from the emotional and psychological toll traditional approaches have unintentionally incurred.

Wellness – instead of weight – is a much needed, fresh way of looking at how we raise healthy kids.

I believe this is a concept with which everyone can get onboard, and a refreshing change from the diet culture-, thin-, weight loss-focused messages rampant in our society.

Nutrition for the Whole Child

Another nutrition trend in 2022 has to do with a needed shift in how we see and treat children in the healthcare world. I believe the nuance and individuality around nutrition for kids will continue to bubble up as an important factor for healthcare professionals and caretakers. As much as a black-and-white solution eases things, the truth is there is no perfect pattern of eating and no finite combination of foods that ensure health.

Each child is individual, grows differently, eats differently, is motivated by different things, and has their own physical, mental, emotional and social challenges.

We must take the whole child into consideration, including his environment, family unit, outside influences, and more. A one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellbeing doesn’t fully serve the individual or the nuanced needs of the child.

Regulation of Social Media and Kids

For years, there’s been research on marketing to children, its ill effects on food choices and eating behaviors, and a call for greater regulation. Now we have news about social media and its influence on disordered eating and eating disorders, especially among girls.

I predict we’ll see more research on the effects of social media and screen time on the developing child’s brain and children’s emotional health. I hope to see regulation and policy around social media platforms, including implementing more parental controls, set limits on age of use, and more.

What nutrition trends in 2022 do you see for the pediatric population?

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