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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 17:35 GMT
Dangers of a poor diet
Vegetables
Many children rarely eat vegetables
As a report indicates about two million children in the UK are living in families who cannot afford to eat healthily, BBC News Online speaks to dieticians about some of the problems they encounter.

Nicole Dos Santos, a paediatric dietician for the British Dietetic Association, was involved in the case of a young child suffering from a severe iron deficiency.

Because of the lack of iron in his diet, the boy, who was just over a year old, had developed anaemia.

Since he was six months old, his mother, who had two other children had been giving him cows' milk because she could not afford to buy infant formula.

It was this which caused his iron deficiency, Ms Dos Santos said.

"As a result he was very lethargic and came in with an infection.

"He needed an immediate blood transfusion and was put on iron supplements and infant formula."

Education

Another case involved a mother who was living with four children under five in a shelter for single mothers.

A crowded kitchen made it difficult for her to make up milk to feed her one-year-old daughter when she cried.

Fish and chips
Children tend to be tempted by fast food
As a result, the little girl kept falling asleep.

"When we saw this child she was quite underweight and again very lethargic," Ms Dos Santos said.

"It was really a situation caused by the woman's poverty. We treated the child and social services became involved to re-house the family."

Both women were given dietary education and a plan to help them feed their children a more healthy diet, Ms Dos Santos added.

Cereal boost

Dietician Dr Frankie Robinson, of the British Nutrition Foundation, says a simple lack of milk in a child's diet can lead to an "alarmingly" low intake of calcium.

"We have found this lack of calcium in children when they reach adolescence, which in turn affects the growth of bones and can lead to osteoporosis," she said.


Fruit and vegetables are essential

Dr Frankie Robinson, dietician
A study among low income groups in Northern Ireland had indicated that simply eating a breakfast cereal with milk in the morning could make a difference nutritionally.

"It's a cheap way of getting the nutrients you need - many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals and help tackle malnutrition."

Toddlers were often prone to anaemia, due to a lack of foods containing iron, Dr Robinson added.

Shopping problems

She said parents should try to give their children fruit and vegetables but also cheaper starchy products such as potatoes, bread, pasta and rice which would enrich their children's diets.

Children who fail to eat enough of the "basics" for a healthy diet are more at risk of heart disease and diabetes - two conditions prevalent among poor families.

"Fruit and vegetables are essential and although people know they should eat these, they are often not able to get access to adequate shopping facilities where they live," said Dr Robinson.

Foods which should be avoided in large quantities were those with a high level of saturated fat, such as fatty meat, pastries, biscuits and crisps.

Initiatives such as the school fruit scheme, which aimed to encourage children aged four to six to eat a piece of fruit a day, are helping to encourage good eating practices.

But Dr Robinson stressed that poorer families also needed help in boosting their confidence about cooking healthier meals.

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