Bringing down barriers to children’s healthy eating: a critical review of opportunities, within a complex food system

Paula Varela*, Sofia De Rosso, Andreia Ferreira Moura, Martina Galler, Kaat Philippe, Abigail Pickard, Tija Rageliene, Julia Sick, Roselinde van Nee, Valerie Almli, Gaston Ares, Alice Gronhoj, Sarah Spinelli, Ellen van Kleef

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This narrative review revises the scientific evidence of recent years on healthy eating in children and adolescents, making sense of promising avenues of action, from a food system perspective. A conceptual framework is provided to better understand how eating habits of children and adolescents are shaped to identify key multisectoral approaches that should be implemented to promote healthier diets. The following influencing factors are discussed: individual factors (physiological and psychological factors, food preferences and food literacy competencies), factors within the personal and socio-cultural food environments, external food environments, and the supply chain. In each section, the main barriers to healthy eating are briefly discussed focusing on how to overcome them. Finally, a discussion with recommendations of actions is provided, anchored in scientific knowledge, and transferable to the general public, industry, and policymakers. We highlight that multidisciplinary approaches are not enough, a systems approach, with a truly holistic view is needed. Apart from introducing systemic changes, a variety of interventions can be implemented at different levels to foster healthier diets in children, through fostering healthier and more sustainable food environments, facilitating pleasurable sensory experiences, increasing their food literacy, and enhancing their agency by empowering them to make better food related decisions. Acknowledging children as unique individuals is required, through interpersonal interactions, as well as their role in their environments. Actions should aim to enable children and adolescents as active participants within sustainable food systems, to support healthier dietary behaviours that can be sustained throughout life, impacting health at a societal level.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalNutrition Research Reviews
Early online date25 Sept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Nutrition Society. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.


  • Edulia
  • Adolescents
  • Food choice
  • Food environment
  • Social environment
  • Food supply


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