Indian pre-schoolers vulnerable to nutritional problems


How to identify a pre-schooler? A smart child who believes in exercising his choice in his food and is very vocal about what he/she likes and what they despise. While it makes for an adorable sight occasionally, it may lead to some nutritional disorders. Add sedentary lifestyle, overconsumption of sugar- and fat-rich food in the melee, and you have a recipe for nutrient deficiencies. I list down some of the most common nutritional disorders that I encounter in my practice.  

Some of the common childhood nutritional disorders

One of the most common nutritional deficiency in children is iron deficiency anaemia. Statistics from phase I of the National Family Health Survey found that more than half of Indian children – 68.5% – are anaemic.1 Anaemia is when there is low iron in the red blood cells. Iron is required for the formation of haemoglobin, the molecule which carries oxygen. Low iron means low haemoglobin and that means lower red blood cells.2

Signs of anaemia in your child: Your child may have a pale skin, as if it is drained of colour; child gets easily tired or irritated; has increased heart rate; has sore swollen tongue; and sometimes has the urge to eat peculiar things that are not food such as dirt or ice. 2 

Causes of iron deficiency anaemia: Low intake of iron is the main cause of iron deficiency anaemia in children.2 Pre-schoolers who drink a lot of plain cow’s milk can also be deficient in iron because milk by itself is low in iron and the protein in cow’s milk can lower iron absorption.3 Specially bottle-fed children tend to drink excess milk. 

There was a time when malnourished would mean sickly thin children. However, malnutrition in the urban context means overweight or even obese children. The NFHS-5 survey showed increase in overweight among children in 16 of the 20 states surveyed when compared to NFHS-4 survey 3 years back.1 Overweight and obesity can affect your child’s future health. 

Causes of overweight/obesity in children: Imbalance in the amount of calories consumed and the calories burnt by the way of active play and exercise.7 Children are notoriously not eating a diverse diet, the one that provides them with all the nutrients for growth. Excess consumption of high-fat and –sugar diet is the reason.8 

How to prevent/manage it: Providing home-cooked meals to your child; eating at-least 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables every day; consuming a balanced diet; having regular outdoor play and being physically active and least screen time can do a world of difference for your child’s overall health.9 

Dental caries or tooth decay has been noted in 60 – 80% of Indian children. If unchecked, it could result in a hole in the teeth and in severe cases resulting in tooth loss. Consumption of too many sticky and sugary drinks, poor dental hygiene are some of the major causes of dental issues. The antidote is to have good oral hygiene, reduce the sugar consumption and provide your child with calcium and vitamin D from diet and supplements. Regular brushing of teeth twice a day. No feeding after night brushing till morning. 

The next time your child complains of stomachache, it might just be true and not just a reason to miss school. Gastrointestinal problems like stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea are common in pre-schoolers – as much as 10% of preschool- and school going kids suffer from abdominal pain. While there is no singular cause for it, these GI issues are found to be self-resolving. Regular passage of soft stools is important. Dietary and behavioural changes might help in managing it. Check with your paediatrician if these GI issues can hinder nutrient absorption from food. 11

In a nutshell, providing nourishing food and a loving environment can help children grow healthy and help them tide over any health conditions effortlessly. 

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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