CHENNAI: Is your child often lethargic, irritable and weak? Chances are that he/she has micronutrient deficiency.
According to a UNICEF report, one out of three children in India suffer from micronutrients deficiency, wherein the child lacks essential micro nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine, Vitamin A, folate, Vitamin B12 and so on in his or her diet. This puts them at the risk for a weak immune system, impaired cognitive function and anemia.
Lakshmi Swaminathan, mother of three-year-old Sanath, recalls a time when she’d complain that her son was not as active as the other children in her locality. A visit to the paediatrician revealed that her son was undernourished and suffered from micronutrient deficiency. “He is extremely fussy when it comes to food. So, after six months of breast feeding, it became tough for us to feed him semi-solid food,” she shares. Sanath was diagnosed with Vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is necessary to support the body’s immune system.
According to another UNIFEC report, children who are deficient in Vitamin A face a higher risk of dying from infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhoea. “We were able to reverse the deficiency after feeding him fortified food” she adds.
Dr Sreedhar, consultant pediatrician, Veritas Children’s Clinic, emphasises that micronutrients are the building blocks for children. “Most Indian households provide macronutrients like fats and carbohydrates but lack in micronutrients that are very important for the baby’s physical and mental growth. When there’s a lacuna, they suffer in the later stages of life,” he says and points to the alarming rise of ‘hidden hunger’ in the country. “With more children eating junk food, they satisfy their hunger but end up not getting the required nutrients. This is called hidden hunger,” he shares.
As per a report published in ‘The Lancet’, a medical journal, food-based approaches along with healthy behavioural practices can prevent deaths of nearly two million children under five. Meeting a child’s nutritional requirement in the first 1,000 days of birth, makes a big difference and can build a strong immune system, and ensure strong mental and physical growth. “Food-based approaches, diet diversification, fortification of food with essential micronutrients and supplementation can help in combating malnutrition in children. But the foremost request from experts like us is to mothers…breastfeed the child until six months at least. This is the most effective way to prevent any nutrient deficiency,” he says.
After six months, he/she can no longer rely solely on breastfeeding and needs other food sources. So, it’s necessary to feed them complementary food such as ragi, navadhanya mix and commercially available fortified cereal foods (rich in micronutrients).
Wahida Satish Kumar of Natural Parenting Community, adds that breastfeeding promotes intestinal health, development of the body, strengthens immunity, increases body metabolism, and has naturally available micro nutrients and anti-oxidants. “After six months, you can gradually transition to semi-solid food — steamed and mashed vegetables, fruits etc. A child is never allergic to mother’s milk…but if one decided to switch to formulated milk and or cow’s milk, there are chances that the baby will develop allergies to these, leading to more health complications,” she explains.
While traces of these minerals and vitamins can mean the difference between life and death for children, it’s also important for women during pregnancy. “There are myths about what a mommy-to-be can and cannot eat. So a lot of pregnant women don’t eat certain food items that promote growth of the child. That’s why sometime a child is born underweight and weak,” he says. “Consumption of food rich in nutritional value plays a crucial role in the survival of a mother during pregnancy and childbirth.”
What do the stats say?
According to the Global Nutrition Report 2016, estimated annual GDP loss from low weight, poor child growth and micro nutrient deficiencies is an average of 11% in Asia and Africa.
A 2016-research study by IMRB across 10 Indian cities showed children have poor immunity. Every third child missed school for more than five days a year due to illness and 71% working women in the south India missed work due to their child’s illness as compared to 48% in the east.
Almost 30% mothers take their child to a doctor at least once a month and spend an average of `850 per month on pediatric medicines
Signs of low immunity in kids:
Lack of sleep & physical activity, sluggishness, fatigue, pale skin, irritability, fast or irregular heartbeat, decreased appetite, lightheadedness, slow weight gain/weight loss, dizziness and headaches