Nutrition: Value at Early Childhood

The future of a nation rests on healthy, protected, educated and well-developed children. The number of cases of high morbidity and mortality among children are disconcerting. Scenarios such as child malnutrition are the result of a complex set of reasons-ranging from the state of a family’s income generation to environmental factors to government interventions. Nutrition is major component which is required at every age of life irrespective of the fact that we are infant, teenage, young, aged or old. Our nutritious foods influence our life. We can ensure good health only by consuming sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food. Primarily at an early stage of childhood, children need proper nutrients to stay healthy and strong. Nutrition for children is based on the same core principles as nutrition for adults.

Why is Nutrition so Important for Children?

A healthy balanced diet is pivotal for child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children have more enthusiasm to learn proactively. It is worth noting that what child consumes today will affect their intellectual ability years later. Nevertheless, research studies show that nutrition consuming habit in child’s early years foster their health and academic performance. Lack of sufficient amount of nutrition makes them vulnerable to stunting, wasting and put them under the category of under-nutrition which is quite prevalent in India. In India, the proportion of child stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height) has worsened. More than half of these deaths are caused by malnutrition - mainly due to the lack of Vitamin A, iron, iodine, zinc and folic acid. These types of data are worth frightening which give rise to monitor child’s nutrient intake throughout their early childhood.

Consequences of nutritional deficiency

In order to implement a sustainable and healthy lifestyle for child, it is important to understand how nutritional deficiency can affect childhood development. Malnutrition is a broad term that refers to all forms of poor nutrition as it includes both undernutrition and over nutrition. Undernutrition is caused by the insufficient intake and/ or inadequate absorption of energy, protein or vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that in turn lead to nutritional deficiencies. It is not only caused by not eating enough food. Childhood diseases, such as diarrhea or intestinal worm infestation, can affect the absorption of, or requirements, for nutrients. Under-nutrition during pregnancy stunts fetal growth and can lead to poor brain development that results in irreversible chronic illnesses since malnourished mothers are more likely to have malnourished children. These indicate poor maternal health which can affect child’s health terribly. Malnutrition affect adversely, it stunts intellect, reduces productivity and perpetuates poverty. It increases a child’s chance of dying and increases their susceptibility to childhood infections, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria.

What could a healthy diet consist of?

A possible healthy eating plan should consist of:
● Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
● Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
● Less amount of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
● Calories as needed.
The food intake varies for every age group. Therefore, a balanced and customized diet is always recommended to meet the necessities to continue the life processes.

Measures that need proper implementation

Improving access to safe water, promoting hygiene, and preventing and treating diseases are very important aspects to be taken care of. Nutrition can be improved through social safety nets, social protection schemes and other poverty eradication measures. According to the NFHS report, children born between 2014 and 2019 (that is, 0 to 5 years of age) are more malnourished than the previous generation. To curb this, the Government of India has launched various policies and programs for prevention and treatment of undernutrition among children and women by initiating nutrition missions. Integrated Child Development Services, the introduction of MGNREGA, Poshan Abhiyaan and expansion of Public Distribution System are among others.
We can also do it by inducing social and behavioral change initiatives, such as community-level counseling, dialogue, media engagement and advocacy, especially in marginalized communities to create awareness about importance of nutrition as well as stoping child marriage and avoiding adolescent pregnancies.
Fostering child nutrition later is not easy; it is simply like putting a band-aid on a serious wound. The challenges are high, but the aptitudes are far reaching.

The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent diseases with nutrition. -THOMAS EDISON