Visibly Healthy Children Could Be Deficient in Key Nutrients- Experts

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Often termed as hidden hunger, the undernutrition in apparently healthy children could be a roadblock in their proper physical and cognitive development. The deficiency of key micronutrients like Vitamin A, iodine, folate, zinc and iron during 1000 days of life, from conception to the second birthday, could cause serious and irreversible damage to child’s cognitive and physical development.

“Hidden hunger is a term used for micronutrient deficiency, like Vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc. Children with these decencies may look chubby and healthy but may fail to achieve their optimum cognitive and physical growth. This is why it is important to make parents aware that filling their children’s tummy is not the only dietary goal. Rather ensuring their daily intake of micronutrients is equally important for their health,” says Dr. Ashutosh Mahapatra, Secretary, NNF Odisha State.

Along with a speedy physical development during first two years of life, the child’s brain also grows rapidly during first two years of life; significant cognitive development is recorded between 34 weeks after the conception until 2 years of age. The maximum development of synapsis, the connection in the brain through which messages are passed between neuron, occurs during this time-frame and by the time child starts going to school, the synapse formation reaches the adult level. But for all these neurocognitive and physical developments, it important that child receives the recommended amount of micronutrients during this time period.

Apart from delayed mental and motor development during infancy, micronutrient deficiency during these formative years may lead to an impaired intellectual performance, work capacity, reproductive outcomes and overall health in adolescence and adulthood.

However, it is often seen that even children belonging to affluent families and good body weight suffer from micronutrient deficiencies which can significantly interfere with their growth and development. While there are various interconnected reasons responsible for micronutrient deficiencies in infants, the basic one is the lack of awareness around their actual requirements. People often do not that the percentage of micronutrients that need to be met by complementary foods is quite high and it is nearly impossible to feed the amount of food required to meet the child’s micronutrient requirements.

So how can parents assure a wholesome nutrition and save their children from this hidden hunger?

ExplainsDr. Ashutosh Mahapatra, Secretary, NNF Odisha State“Considering the importance of micronutrients during early childhood and the fact that it is almost impossible to meet their recommended intake with breastmilk and traditional food alone, it is important to look for effective and scientifically validated solutions like including fortified food in their diet. With the optimum quantity of essential micronutrients, fortified foods, infant cereals are carefully designed to meet baby’s nutritional requirement while staying compatible to their taste buds.”

Food fortification is scientifically proved to have a much wider and more sustained impact on child’s growth and development. This is why around the globe, irrespective of the socio-economic status of the parents, fortified food is recommended as a part of the supplementary food to children up to the age of two years.

So to rule out any chances of micronutrient deficiency until the child celebrates his second birthday it is very important that parents should not be beguiled by their chubby and healthy appearance. To ensure that child’s specific nutritional requirements are met on daily basis, it is advisable to incorporate fortified foods in their diet.