Children who do not receive a nutritious diet suffer from malnutrition, which refers to the lack of proper nutrition. Malnutrition is usually caused by either an inadequate diet or poor absorption of food from the gastrointestinal tract due to some illness. In some cases, specific ailments may cause a child to be unable to absorb nutrients from their food even if they eat a healthy and balanced diet.
Causes of Malnutrition
Nutrition deficiency, especially chronic ones, can lead to children’s physical and mental development problems. While adults tend to drink water-filled juices such as apple juice during a meal instead of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, they too may develop nutrient deficiencies over time with this unhealthy dietary habit. One way for everyone to ensure they have the best nutrition is to eat a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables and drink nutritionally rich beverages such as herbal teas.
Children suffer from malnutrition because of various reasons. For example, those who take multiple medications may not receive all the necessary nutrition through their diet. Chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis prevent the efficient absorption of nutrients. Children with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa do not receive enough calories and protein in their diets. Obese children tend to eat more foods that lack nutritional values than healthy ones.
In addition, many parents believe that offering ‘junk food’ will satisfy their child’s hunger and ensure they get adequate nutrition – however, this is far from the truth.
In most cases, eating junk food such as potato chips and macaroni and cheese will make a child hungrier since these foods lack the nutrition they need to grow healthy. Instead, parents should provide their children with tasty yet nutritious meals such as bread or pasta along with protein-rich meals such as legumes and lean meats to ensure they receive the nutrition necessary for optimal development and health.
Types of Nutrition Deficiencies and How to Avoid Them
The following list supplies a brief analysis of common nutrition deficiencies in children and the symptoms associated with each deficiency. As those who have been diagnosed know, the only way to control the symptoms is by prescribing a particular form of nutritional supplement. In some cases, however, dietary changes may be all that is needed to allow the body to heal itself.
- Iron – The most common nutrient deficiency in children under 5 years is iron deficiency,Anemia. Symptoms include fatigue and weakness, poor performance in school or activities, pale skin colouration and decreased immune function resulting in frequent respiratory infections.
Symptoms can be reduced or eliminated by adding foods high in Iron, such as meats (especially red meat), eggs, poultry, organ meats, beans and iron-fortified cereals.
- Zinc – Children with zinc deficiencies are usually diagnosed with Acrodermatitis Enteropathica or Leukopenia. Symptoms include skin lesions on the face which are most likely to appear around the mouth and nose. Other symptoms are loss of appetite, diarrhoea, poor growth in children less than 5 years, delayed sexual maturation in males and females, and retarded intellectual development.
Acrodermatitis Enteropathica is characterized by skin lesions around the mouth, whereas Leukopenia is characterized by slow physical growth. Supplementing foods high in zinc can reduce or eliminate these symptoms, such as milk (especially whole milk), eggs, liver, seafood, and whole grains.
- Vitamin A – The most common symptoms of vitamin A deficiency are vision loss (especially night blindness), Anemia, Diarrhea and even death in extreme cases. Vitamin A can also be found in several other forms which are less dangerous to the body, such as beta-carotene, so supplementation with this form is common to reduce the risk of side effects. Foods high in beta-carotene include carrots, apricots, melon, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, and broccoli and tomatoes.
- Riboflavin – This nutrient is synthesized by bacteria that reside on the tongue’s surface, so symptoms of a deficiency may be oral lesions or cracks at the corners of the mouth. Other symptoms are eye irritation, inflammation of the lips, swelling and sores on the arms, legs, and excessive fatigue.
Foods high in riboflavin include animal livers, eggs, milk (especially low fat), yoghurt, and leafy green vegetables, especially spinach and mushrooms.
- Folic Acid – This nutrient is needed during cell growth, so symptoms associated with this deficiency are usually marked by anaemia, leading to extreme tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath. Additional symptoms are irritability, depression and poor appetite leading to weight loss over time.
The familiar sources of folic acid are animal livers and yeast. Foods high in folic acid include asparagus, broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts, orange juice, and dried beans.
- Vitamin D – Symptoms of a deficiency of this nutrient are usually lack of physical growth (especially noticeable in the legs and arms) and an increased risk for respiratory infections. Other symptoms include poor dental health, muscle weakness, nausea or vomiting and seizures.
Foods high in vitamin D include liver (chicken), milk (both dairy milk and soy milk), cheese, margarine, and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, or mackerel.
- Vitamin C – Symptoms associated with a deficiency of this nutrient include swollen and painful joints, easy bruising, gum disease, and poor wound healing. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits such as oranges or grapes, tomatoes, strawberries and broccoli.
- Calcium – Poor development of bones or teeth can be a sign of a calcium deficiency, especially in children under 5 years old. Symptoms also include muscle cramps, especially around the mouth area, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
To ensure that the body has enough calcium to develop strong bones, it is advised to consume two or three servings of dairy products per day, such as milk, cheese or yoghurt. Other foods high in calcium are leafy green vegetables and sardines, almonds and beans.
So, the next time someone asks you questions like, “Is your child suffering from malnutrition?” or “What type of diet does your child follow?” – remember that proper nutrition is necessary for optimal health. Nutritionists can best ensure that your family receives all the essential nutrients for optimal health and wellness.
SeekMed offers you easy access to award-winning doctors who assist you with your diagnosis and help you select the best nutritionist according to the severity of your child’s symptoms.