Two of the most important experiential factors that contribute to health are nutrition and environment. Considered in a holistic way, health includes the emotional and psychological as well as physical aspects, and does not represent merely the absence of illness.
Good nutrition, beginning in infancy, is crucial to the child’s health. For most babies, drinking mother’s milk contributes to health because it contains essential nutrients. In addition, breast milk contains antibodies that help the baby ward off viruses and bacteria. Nursing can also bring the benefits of adult-to-infant bonding, which contributes to emotional health later in life. As babies move to eating solids, the parents’ or caregivers’ provision of foods that are rich in nutrients is essential to building a healthy child. Processed foods made from fresh ingredients are more likely to have healthful benefits than industrially processed foods, which are likely to have added sugars, salt, and chemical preservatives.
The child’s environment plays multiple roles that have positive or negative effects on health. One key aspect is directly linked to nutrition through the child’s residential area and economic status. The disparities between the poor and the wealthy are pronounced in terms of ready access to healthy food in their immediate neighborhood. In both urban and rural areas, there is a “food gap”: the number of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other ways to access nutritious food in a given area is generally proportional to its average per capita income. Similarly, there are income-related discrepancies in the number of reasonably priced cafes and restaurants as contrasted to fast-food establishments. Very low-income neighborhoods often considered “food deserts” with no grocery stores but dozens of fast-food spots.