Subject archives guide - Nutrition

Our subject guides on a range of child health topics are for researchers interested in child health and the history of paediatrics. Nutrition and diet affects all aspects of life and are important for growth and development.
Last modified
25 August 2023


Energy to grow, keep warm, be active and stay alive is provided by food and drink consumed. Different food and drink provide different amounts of energy.1  A balanced diet includes fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice, dairy and dairy alternatives, proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and beans, and keeping hydrated.2

Nutrition in children

Nutrition is important from conception and pregnant women need a balanced diet, which may include vitamin supplements. It is also important for women to get the right nutrition while breastfeeding.

Babies and children have different need smaller portions of food more frequently compared to adults. A balanced diet for children includes fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy and protein, and young children need the energy provided by fat, such as whole milk, yoghurt, cheese and oily fish.3

Poor diet


Not getting enough food or nutrients can cause serious health problems, including malnutrition. This includes low body weight and children not growing at the expected rate.


Too many calories and not enough physical activity can lead to weight gain, especially when the energy is from fatty and sugary foods. The excess energy is stored as fat and can cause potentially life threatening conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer, as well as day to day health problems.4

Poor diets, such as those that include lots of sugar, can also affect dental health.

Intolerances, vegetarianism and veganism

Food intolerances are an adverse reaction to certain foods, usually with unpleasant symptoms. Some people with allergies and intolerance may need to change their diet dramatically which risks it becoming unbalanced. Children with suspected food allergies or intolerances should see their doctor or dietitian as a restricted diet could affect their growth and development.5

Vegetarians and vegans need a varied diet so they still get all the nutrients required for growth and keeping healthy. Good alternatives to meat and dairy include avocadoes, nuts, tofu, lentil and beans, leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, and soya products. Vitamin supplements may also be needed.6

Relevant records held at RCPCH

  • Report on Vegetarian Weaning (1998)
    Ref: RCPCH/011/003/043Report outlining vegetarian regimes and the hazards associated with them. The report provides guidelines to the doctors and others concerned with advising on weaning diets for vegetarian children. Prepared by the Nutrition Standing Committee.
  • Infantile Hypercalcaemia, Nutritional Rickets, and Infantile Scurvy in Great Britain (1964)
    Ref: RCPCH/004/008/006Includes results of a survey of incidences of these diseases, as well as the research conclusions.
  • Wartime Nutrition of Infants and Children (1941)
    Ref: RCPCH/004/002/036Communication between the BPA and Minister of Food regarding war time nutrition of infants and children.
  • Records on Policy regarding milk, child nutrition and infant food (1942-1963)
    Ref: RCPCH/007/012Records of policy regarding the price, quality and safety of milk and infant food, dried milk regulations, Phenylketonuria, the National Diet, and breastfeeding.
  • Records of relations with the Nutrition Society (1945-1962)
    Ref: RCPCH/014/002Records of relations with the Nutrition Society, including correspondence between the BPA and The Nutrition Society on the possibility of a joint symposium and surveys and reports.
  • Joint Mission of the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organisation regarding education and training in Nutrition in Europe (1961-1962)
    Ref: RCPCH/008/002Records relating to a visit of a Joint Mission of the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organisation regarding education and training in Nutrition in Europe, including a programme for the visit and a report from the BPA representative following the event.
  • Report of the ACC Sub-committee on Nutrition (1978-1979)
    Ref: RCPCH/011/008/013A report of a meeting held in New York of the ACC sub-committee on nutrition and its advisory group on nutrition.
  • View on Soya Bean Milk (1983)
    Ref: RCPCH/007/313A report produced by the BPA Nutrition Committee on the use of soya based milk in place of milk based infant formulae.
  • Records of the Standing Committee on Nutrition
    Ref: RCPCH/003/061Records relating to the BPA Standing Committee on Nutrition including meeting minutes, directives, statements and policies, comments on policies, and correspondence.
  • Records of relations with the British Paediatric Nutrition, Metabolism and Pharmacology Group (1975-1996)
    Ref: RCPCH/014/020Records of relations with the British Paediatric Nutrition, Metabolism and Pharmacology Group, including correspondence, newsletters, questionnaires, meeting minutes, and guidelines.
  • “Nutrition and Pre-Conception Care” (1985)
    Ref: RCPCH/003/049/003/009Letter in The Lancet regarding Nutrition and Pre-Conception Care.
  • British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition (1988-1996)
    Ref: RCPCH/014/027Records relating to the British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, including correspondence relating to the society and health service guidance, discussion documents, regulations and reports, and relevant journal articles.