Food and Behaviour Research

Donate Log In

Two New Events: 'Diet and Dyslexia' and 'Veganuary Special' - BOOK HERE

Energy and nutrient intakes of young children in the UK: findings from the Gemini twin cohort

Syrad H, Llewellyn CH, van Jaarsveld CH, Johnson L, Jebb SA, Wardle J (2016) Br J Nutr. 115(10): 1843-50. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516000957 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


Data on the diets of young children in the UK are limited, despite growing evidence of the importance of early diet for long-term health. We used the largest contemporary dietary data set to describe the intake of 21-month-old children in the UK.
Parents of 2336 children aged 21 months from the UK Gemini twin cohort completed 3-d diet diaries in 2008/2009. Family background information was obtained from questionnaires completed 8 months after birth. Mean total daily intakes of energy, macronutrients (g and %E) and micronutrients from food and beverages, including and excluding supplements, were derived. 
Comparisons with UK dietary reference values (DRV) were made using t tests and general linear regression models, respectively. Daily energy intake (kJ), protein (g) and most micronutrients exceeded DRV, except for vitamin D and Fe, where 96 or 84 % and 70 or 6 % of children did not achieve the reference nutrient intake or lower reference nutrient intake (LRNI), respectively, even with supplementation.
These findings reflect similar observations in the smaller sample of children aged 18-36 months in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. At a population level, young children in the UK are exceeding recommended daily intakes of energy and protein, potentially increasing their risk of obesity. The majority of children are not meeting the LRNI for vitamin D, largely reflecting inadequate use of the supplements recommended at this age.
Parents may need more guidance on how to achieve healthy energy and nutrient intakes for young children.


These findings show that the diets of young pre-school children in the UK provide too many calories compared with official guidelines, and too much protein.

They also confirm serious dietary deficiencies of Vitamin D in these infants, with more than 80% failing to meet even the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake for this key nutrient / hormone.

The other main finding was that 70% of these infants consumed less than the recommended daily population intake of iron, with 6% showing serious dietary deficiency of this essential mineral.

Both Vitamin D and iron are important to brain development, and deficiencies in the first 1000 days of life can lead to permanent impairment of brain function.  

Unfortunately, however, many parents still remain unaware of the fact that nutrition and diet affect mental as well as physical health. See: