Children Nutrition: Eat Your Way to Health
Lately, there has been the need to propagate the importance of early nutrition this is because that it is essential for early development, it is essential for the first 1000 days of life. Nutrition has been called the single greatest environmental influence on babies in the womb and during infancy and it remains essential throughout the first years of life.
Early nutrition is a key aspect of maternal, newborn and child health, still the practice of early nutrition has been neglected. The reason some say it is ignorance but can it be justified? From the time of conception to early childhood, early nutrition lays the outcome of a child’s future. This is important for a child’s development because 70% of the child’s brain develops in the womb.
According to Save the Children’s study, ‘children in an alarming number of countries are not getting adequate nutrition during their first 1000 days, out of 73 developing countries which together account for 95% deaths- only four score ‘very good’ on measures of children.’ Statistics show that more than a third of child’s deaths and 11% of the total disease burden worldwide are due to maternal child under-nutrition. More than 170 million children do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential because of poor nutrition in the earliest months of life.
In Nigeria, malnutrition accounts for more than half of all the deaths of children under five, nutritional intervention must be given to mothers and babies if some of these deaths are to be averted. Poor cycle of nutrition goes from generation to generation, statistics shows that the percentage of exclusive breastfeeding has increased to 63% in Ghana and 17% in Nigeria. Despite significant progress against hunger and poverty in the last decade, under-nutrition is the killer of more than 2.6 million children and more than 100,000 mothers every year.
This shows that there is an inextricable link between the well being of the mother and child. But many mothers are not as lucky as there are an alarming number of mothers and children who are not getting enough nutrition, this means less strength and energy and a possible risk of death and giving birth to a pre-term, malnourished and underweight child. For children, the consequences of malnutrition tend to be irreversible which is why early nutrition serves as an intervention, it improves the child’s chances of healthy living and being prosperous when keyed into the critical window of opportunity.
Early nutrition reduces the tendency of a malnutrition which impedes cognitive development and affects lifelong learning as well as the well being of a child. A proper balance of nutrients such as iron and iodine which a newborn should get if accustomed to early nutrition is very critical for normal brain development in this formative period. Shortages of these nutrients can impair cognitive and motor development, and these effects are often irreversible.
Nutrition is the key as 70 percent of the child’s brain develops in the womb. The human brain grows at a rapid rate during the 20 to 36 weeks of age and continues until 20 months of age, assuming that the child was carried to term by the age of two the child’s brain would be 75% of the adult, it is important to note that it is at this stage that the child goes the various stages of cognitive, language and other forms of development. Now if this child did not get enough nutrient or lack early nutrition, its effect would be devastating depending solely on the extent and duration of the shortage, in many cases the brain’s need for a particular nutrient changes over time throughout the course of the child’s development.
Early nutrition can permanently affect the long term risk of non-communicable disease and this has captured the imagination of the scientific community, Dr Chris Ndiokwelu immediate past president, Dietitians Association of Nigeria affirms this, he explains that there is a hypothesis that scientists are looking into that shows the relationship between poor nutrition and chronic diseases,
“ the seed of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart diseases, obesity are laid in the womb, it is no longer the case of genetic from this we can infer that it is a different scenario together, what we do as mothers during antenatal practices can greatly affect a growing feotus in the womb.”
Having proper nutrition is key; however there are certain nutrients that have more impact on cognitive development than others; iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin b12, fatty acids and folic acid. Iron is essential for brain development through its roles in myelination and neurotransmission, a deficiency in iron during infancy is a strong risk factor of cognitive, motor, socio and emotional implementation. Studies have shown that children who received iron as nutrient had an increased rate of weight gain and achieved the expected rate of cognitive development. Deficiency in iron usually results to conditions that include reduced intelligence, psychomotor retardation, mental and neurologic damage and cretinism.
Iodine is necessary for the thyroid function in pregnant women and necessity for a well functioned central nervous system, iron deficiency constitutes as one of the world’s greatest single cause of preventable brain damage and mental retardation.
Just like iron, zinc deficiency leads to reduction in mental capacity, adverse school performance, poor cognitive performance, poor attention span in school and reduced cognitive ability. It is the 4th most abundant ion in brain it constitutes the brain tissue, it also contributes to the brain structure and functions through its role in DNA and RNA synthesis.
Vitamin b12 also is responsible for brain development and functions like zinc, and just like zinc is also nutrients that should not be lacking during pregnancy. Vitamin b12 deficiency produces a cluster of neurological symptoms in infants, including irritability, failure to thrive, apathy, anorexia, and developmental regression which responds well to supplementation.
Essential fatty acids boost the cell membranes and synapse formation. Fatty acids contribute to an improved performance on the cognition and psychosocial functioning of children. Breast milk on the other hand, contains growth factors and hormones needed for brain development, it contains DHA and Choline nutrients, and this improves eye sight and some responses in young children. A study published in the journal of pediatrics shows that breastfeeding improves cognitive development in term and preterm children. Children who are breastfed have better neurodevelopment than those that are fed with infant formula.
A child’s future is determined by the kind of nutrition he/she receives during the first 1000 days, it is important that he gets the right nutrients. Malnutrition and child mortality can be fought through simple and inexpensive solutions. Exclusive breastfeeding should be encouraged; taking of supplement to help boost the nutrients that are needed for both the mother and the baby should be made available. On the other hand, health workers and the government should try and reach out to pregnant women as much as they can and give them the right information they need so that both the baby and the mother wouldn’t be at any risk of some sorts. Improve the laws, policies that can support families and encourage breastfeeding.