Ministry of Health Updates Guidelines for Children and Young People

21 August 2012

The Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People (Aged 2–18 years) have been updated and strengthened to reflect changes in New Zealand society and eating patterns.

As well as improvements to existing information, the document includes considerations for Māori, Pacific and Asian population groups, and information on current meal patterns of New Zealand children and young people. Other topics include picky eating, caffeine and oral health.

Children and young people (aged 2–18 years) represent a quarter of New Zealand's population – just over a million people. It is known that good nutrition and physical activity during childhood and adolescence are essential for normal growth and development and will contribute to good health and reduced levels of chronic disease and disability in adulthood.

The Ministry of Health Chief Advisor on Child and Youth Health, Dr Pat Tuohy said a concerning finding from recent research was that many children are eating treat foods most days.

‘These are empty calories which fill children up but don’t nourish them.

‘The guidelines provide advice about how to improve children’s nutrition and keep them healthy which includes keeping high fat, sugar or salt food for occasional use only,’ Dr Tuohy said.

The dietary requirements of children and young people are different to those of adults, and change as children and young people develop.

Key points:

  • Encourage children and young people to be involved in shopping, growing and cooking family meals. 
  • Eat meals with family or whanau as often as possible.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day. Include reduced or low-fat milk.
  • Eat enough for activity, growth and to maintain a healthy body size.
  • High fat, sugar or salt foods should be for occasional use only.
  • Young people older than 13 can have up to two cups a day.
  • No tea or coffee for those under 13.
  • No energy drinks for those under 18.
  • Children and young people should do at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity each day while reducing their time in front of a screen, outside of school, to two hours a day. Dancing, sport, jobs, play and just getting around are suggested as ways to exercise.

A copy of the Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People (Aged 2–18 years): A background paper is available now for download.