Nutrition Enfants Personnes Agées
25/06/2019 4 min

Nutrition of children, the elderly and pregnant and breastfeeding women: ANSES warns about excess sugar intake in children and underlines the benefits of physical activity for the elderly

Infants, children and adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, postmenopausal women and the elderly have specific physiological needs that call for appropriate diets. Today, ANSES is publishing four expert opinions on the nutrition of these population groups and is proposing dietary guidelines taking into account their specific needs to supplement the 2017 guidelines established for the general adult population. These guidelines constitute scientific bases that will enable public health measures to be taken in order to guarantee quality nutrition for the prevention of certain chronic diseases. As part of upcoming work by the High Council for Public Health and the French Public Health Agency, ANSES's guidelines will be translated into recommendations and then health messages tailored to each category of the population in order to ensure their dissemination and adoption.

As part of the National Health and Nutrition Programme (PNNS), ANSES is responsible for establishing dietary guidelines for the adult population and specific population groups. These guidelines provide scientific bases for public health policies and recommendations related to nutrition.

In 2017, ANSES established new guidelines for the main food groups enabling the nutritional requirements of the general adult population to be met while preventing risks of chronic diseases and limiting exposure to certain chemical contaminants found in food.

Today, to supplement them, the Agency is publishing four new opinions on dietary guidelines for specific population groups, i.e. children aged zero to three years, children aged four to 17 years, menopausal women & the elderly, and pregnant & breastfeeding women. ANSES's experts have taken into account the specific characteristics and nutritional requirements of each of these groups, as well as epidemiological data and data on the nutrient intakes currently observed in France for the population over the age of three years.

The expert appraisal results underline that health risks related to nutrition are specific to each of the studied population groups and that these risks can be limited by eating a healthy and varied diet.

The Agency concludes that, from a qualitative point of view and from the age of four years, the dietary guidelines defined for adults can cover the nutritional requirements of specific population groups, provided that some often simple adjustments are made. ANSES therefore proposes specific guidelines in order to meet the needs of all of these groups.

Complementary feeding in infants: an essential stage

The feeding of newborns and young children includes several transitional stages: umbilical feeding, oral feeding with milk only, the introduction of various foods, in particular solid foods (first diversification phase), and lastly the shift to family foods (second diversification phase).

In its opinion on children aged zero to three years, ANSES sets out diversification practices that promote the acceptance of new foods: 

  • starting diversification between the ages of four and six months;
  • introducing the widest possible variety of foods between the ages of five and 18 months, which is a favourable window for the acceptance of new foods;
  • continuing to offer any foods that are initially rejected;
  • giving priority to mealtimes.

Moreover, numerous products targeting young children can contribute to supplying them with excess quantities of total sugar. Thus, ANSES stresses the importance of establishing sugar content criteria to ensure that these products are suitable for young children.

Children aged four  to 17 years: warning about excess sugar consumption

For children over the age of four years, ANSES warns about excess sugar intakes, in particular for younger children, and calls on the public authorities to urgently take risk reduction measures.

The Agency specifically focuses on two priority levers, sugar-sweetened beverages and pastries/biscuits/cakes, which are frequently offered as afternoon snacks. These foods are high in sugar and have low nutritional benefits. They should be replaced with other higher-quality foods such as sugar-free dairy products or other calcium-rich foods as well as fresh (unprocessed) fruits and nuts.

ANSES also draws attention to the need to reduce “added sugars” contained in numerous processed products and underlines the benefits of “home-made” preparations which help people be aware of and control their sugar intakes.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women: foods that are beneficial for the health of mothers and children

In its opinion, ANSES highlights some food groups that offer specific health benefits for mothers and children during pregnancy or breastfeeding: these include dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and fish. The consumption of these foods also helps cover requirements for certain nutrients essential to these populations such as iron, iodine, vitamin B9 (folic acid) and, for breastfeeding women only, vitamins A and C.

The Agency recommends that women of childbearing age take care to eat a balanced diet without waiting until they become pregnant, in order to ensure that from conception, their nutritional status is satisfactory and compatible with the needs of the foetus and mother.

Physical activity protects against age-related diseases

ANSES stresses benefits associated with physical activity to ensure balanced nutrition for the elderly and prevent certain age-related diseases. In view of the decrease in energy requirements with age, the quantities usually consumed to meet nutritional needs can be maintained provided that physical activity is slightly increased. This also contributes to protecting against a large number of non-communicable diseases. More specifically, it helps protect against pathophysiological effects of ageing such as sarcopenia, osteoporosis and cognitive decline.

However, for people who are unable to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary time, the Agency recommends slightly reducing serving sizes for certain foods, with the exception of fruits, vegetables, fish, molluscs, crustaceans and wholegrain starches, in order to cover nutritional requirements.