Being a parent means we want to help our kids achieve all their growth markers, keep them free from illness and give them the best shot at adulthood. But in reality, parents will tell you that one of the things they struggle with the most is their child’s food habits.
Balanced nutrition is the cheerleader that champions the goals of development. It sets kids up with good food ideas and habits that will last them a lifetime. But, whether you have picky eaters, junk food eaters or children with low appetites, a child's nutrition doesn't have a one time fix. It requires constant care, change and attention.
Why don't kids get proper nutrition?
1. If a parent doesn't know enough about what a balanced meal should look like, chances are their family is not going to know either. If easy-cook microwave meals, greasy take-out and few fruits and vegetables make up daily meals, then there is a good chance the kids will grow up with developmental setbacks, obesity or worse.
2. Good food isn't cheap, and the cost of providing healthy options ultimately depends on how much money you have. Families living below the poverty line often cannot afford a well-rounded diet. What they eat daily may finally be about what is cheaper and easily available. These could be filling, starchy options but not nourishing enough on their own. Effects of eating like this may not be visible immediately but show up in the long run.
3. Fussy eaters are every parent's biggest dread. Mealtimes quickly become battlegrounds. Picky kids and distressed parents lock horns over eating healthy food or some variation of fried nuggets, fish fingers. Instead of always giving in, offer a variety of healthy foods in small portions, avoid force-feeding and try some healthier versions of flash-fried favourites.
4. Allergies take several healthy food options off the table, making it difficult (but not impossible) to maintain a high level of nutrition. The incidents of peanut allergies tripled globally between 1997 and 2008, but in India, bigger culprits turned out to be milk, eggs, chickpea and seafood.
5. The easy availability of junk food is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles to proper nutrition. Junk food is addictive, and the synthetic ingredients, high sugar/salt content and artificial flavours make fresh food pale in comparison.
Nutrition, immunisation & development
Malnutrition impacts a child's behavioural, emotional and intellectual development in many ways. Undernourished children struggle with school work, learning and retention - everything a well-nourished child's brain does efficiently.
Due to a lack of some vitamins and minerals, malnourished children could be emotionally unstable and may deal with higher levels of anxiety, depression or even schizophrenia. Everything, right down to how active or lethargic a child feels can often come down to a matter of correct nutrition. Adequate nutrition can help a child be more productive, get enough exercise, build a healthy appetite and grow.
But, according to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study by the University of Washington, poor nutrition was one of the biggest causes of death and disability in India. While this is unsettling in itself, not much has changed today. A 2019 UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition study estimates that nearly half of all deaths in children under five world over can be put down to malnutrition.
Undernourished children often suffer from stunting or being severely underweight. This puts them at higher risk from life-threatening infectious diseases from which they can take longer to recover. A compromised immune system is riskier in places like India due to several other factors like unpredictable weather, lack of information about infectious diseases, poor hygiene and abject poverty.
This is why vaccination is particularly relevant here. While malnutrition is said to cause a shocking 45% child deaths and just under 10% suffer from acute malnutrition, the government subsidises several vaccines. Ensuring all children are afforded the added protection against vaccine-preventable diseases is one big leap towards healthy, happy children. While it isn't clear if the quality and duration of immune responses among malnourished children are the same as healthy, well-nourished children, immunisation is one of the cornerstones to better health of children as well as the communities they live in.
Ultimately, a child's nutrition isn't just about sustenance. It's about giving their little cells and growing bodies the best chance to grow and perform well into adulthood and old age.
This is a partnered post.