Playing while eating negatively impacts children’s nutritional intake, dietician tells parents 

Angela Onwuzoo

Allowing children to play with toys during mealtime will distract them from eating well, a Registered Dietician-Nutritionist, Olusola Malomo, has said.

He advised that toys be kept away from children, especially those under the age of five years whenever they are eating to avoid poor food intake.

The dietician said such a habit makes babies vulnerable to malnutrition because of insufficient dietary intake.

The United Nations Children’s Fund recently raised the alarm over the burden of child malnutrition in the country, stating that 12 million out of the 35 million under-five children in Nigeria are stunted due to malnutrition.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria is ranked number one in Africa and second in the world in terms of malnourished children.

“The effect of stunting can carry on and contribute to developmental delays and impair cognitive development. For a child, it can have an effect on the school performance and also his productivity as well as going into adulthood”, UNICEF said.

Malomo, who is an Assistant Chief Dietician at the Ajeromi General Hospital, Lagos, disclosed this during an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise, advising parents to avoid anything that causes distraction while feeding their children.

He stated that playing with toys while eating is a bad habit that kids should not be allowed to develop and indulge in.

According to him, poor food intake can affect their growth and development besides the risk of suffering from malnutrition.

The National Demographic and Health Survey 2018, indicates that currently, one in three Nigerian children suffers from stunting, which is a form of malnutrition.

The dietician noted that not only do toys cause distractions to children whenever they are having their meal but also make them eat little.

Malomo said, “Toys are distractions to children. Some children will prefer to play with the toys rather than to eat.

“Some will prefer to watch cartoons rather than to eat and feeding needs concentration for them to finish their food.

“These are some of the things we have observed particularly with under-five feeding. Children shouldn’t grow up eating in front of the television, even adults. They shouldn’t grow up with that habit. We call it behavioural modification.”

According to him, “Anytime there is a feeding session, children should know that mealtime is mealtime and should respect it and eat.

The dietician noted that adequate nutrition goes beyond the provision of food, stressing that it has to do with the qualitative adequacy of the food in terms of quality, quantity, and availability of that food that is eaten in the body.

“The recommendation is, to let the feeding time be feeding time and let every distraction be off so that after their meal, they can come back to play with their toys or watch the television.

“When feeding children, any distraction should be kept away from them. Television, toys, and anything that can distract their attention from feeding should be kept away from them because more children will have a preference for these toys and television over their meals at that particular point.

“And that will reduce the quantity or quality of food that will be available to them for that meal. They may eat less or may not even be interested in the food and this can lead to malnutrition”, he said.

Malomo also told our correspondent that the environment where children are fed was equally important, likewise the colour of the plates and spoons used to feed them.

Advising parents to feed their children responsively, the dietician counselled, “When the food is prepared, the quantity that gets to the child at the end of the day, matters most.

“Oftentimes, some children may be picky eaters, for example,  they don’t want to eat. In this case, now, care and nurture come into play.  We call it responsive feeding.”

The World Health Organisation says the first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period lowers morbidity and mortality, reduces the risk of chronic disease, and fosters better development overall.

The WHO guiding principles for appropriate complementary feeding also recommended that mothers should feed their babies under five responsively.



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