CHENNAI: How much does nutrition during pregnancy and initial years affect the future of a child? Everything, says a new study published in the prestigious medical journal, Lancet. The findings of the study, conducted in Indonesia, have considerable implications for India where as many as a quarter of the children under five are malnourished.
According to the study, supplements taken by mother during pregnancy can add an equivalent of up to one full year of schooling to a child’s cognitive abilities at 9-12 years of age. It also found that a nurturing environment is more strongly correlated than biological factors to brain development and general intellectual ability, declarative memory, procedural memory, executive function, academic achievement, and socio-emotional health.
In short, regardless of the biological factors, the academic and intellectual performance of a person, which decides the upward mobility, both socially and economically, is founded on nutrition during the early stages of brain development. The study revealed impressive long-term benefits to children whose mothers took multiple micronutrient supplements, including better “procedural memory” equivalent to the increase in score typical after an additional half-year of schooling. The procedural memory or fine motor skills is linked to body-mind coordination, hand movements and senses.
Experts say there is a severe lack of awareness in India about the importance of micronutrients. “There are 72 micronutrients of which five are very important for pregnant women. Lack of these will reduce cognitive abilities by about 10-15 per cent, and also IQ level,” says Job Zachariah of UNICEF.