A child, who is not on a well-balanced diet, is also deficient in vital micronutrients. One out of three children in the country is said to be suffering from this deficiency.
Micronutrients are a group of nutrients which are required in trace amounts for normal growth and development. A recent, Bengaluru- based study covering school-going children, drawn equally from the various socio-economic classes, found that up to 95 per cent could be at risk of inadequate micronutrient intake, with almost 70% at risk of having insufficient intake of four or more micronutrients. The intake of nutrients that were most inadequate in the Bengaluru study was Vitamin A, folate, Vitamin B12 and iron, leaving children susceptible to stunting, weakened immune system, impaired cognitive function, anaemia and low energy levels.
Experts believe that the effect on health in the early years of life due to micronutrient deficiency may lead to serious health consequences later in life. Dr Sreedhar, Consultant Pediatrician, Vertias Children’s Clinic, Chennai, said, “In many cases, infants growing with proper weight and height are often reported with deficiency of micronutrients, which include essential vitamins and minerals. The diet of an average Indian household generally provides macronutrients (eg., carbohydrates, fats) but many times, they lack in micronutrients required for mental development of infants. Therefore, it is imperative that the diet must include micronutrient-rich food (vitamins and minerals), to ensure good mental growth of a child along with physical development.”
While short-term deficiency of these can be rectified immediately with a nutritious diet, long-term deficiency can irreversibly impair cognitive and physical development in children. “Meeting nutritional requirement during the first 1,000 days lays a healthy foundation for a child with regard to proper mental and physical growth, as well as a strong immune system. Failure to meet the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals can falter a child’s growth and development, affecting quality of life at a later age,” added Dr Sreedhar.
He also felt that it was need of the hour that policymakers, nutritional experts and public leaders recognize the grave impact of micronutrient deficiency on infants and take steps to promote breastfeeding aggressively and various food- based approach (including micronutrient rich food, diet diversification, supplementation and fortification of food with essential micronutrients), to combat the scourge of malnutrition in children.
Low immunity does not come without a warning. One should not ignore the clues that a child exhibits. The clues could range from stress to diet to lack of sleep, obesity, lack of physical activity and even overmedication. Dr Sudha Rathna Prabhu, a Child Specialist, insists that children are what they eat. “It is worrying to see their daily diet. From snacks to junk and fizzy drinks, there is no restriction exercised by parents. With both parents working, a child’s lunch and breakfast habits take a heavy beating,” she said.
Add to this lack of sleep. Children need a maximum of eight hours of sleep. Studies have revealed that children who sleep under seven hours a night are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold. “Some of them leave for school as early as seven in the morning. Coupled with the lack of sleep, poor maintenance of toilets in schools add to their woes in the form of infections,” Dr Sudha added.
Health and micronutrients
1 in every 3 children in India is suffering from micronutrient deficiency - UNICEF
70% of the Indian population still consumes less than 50% of the recommended daily allowance of micronutrients - FSSAI
60% of Indian children under five-years suffer from anaemia, almost 40% are stunted, 60% suffer from anaemia - The World Bank
Estimated annual GDP loss from low weight, poor child growth and micronutrient deficiencies average 11% in Asia and Africa - Global Nutrition Report 2016
30% of children miss school for more than 5 days due to illness
13% of children have missed an exam due to illness Majority (59%) of working mothers have missed at least one day of work due to child’s illness