Nutrition for Healthy Children
On 12-2-2016, our child helpline received an information about a baby boy (2 ½ months) and a girl (2 yrs). A Public Health Nurse gave the tipoff that the children were not given proper care by her mother who was leading an immoral life. The younger child was not receiving minimum nutrition and appeared to be on the verge of chronic starvation. As per the information, our CHILDLINE Staff conducted the regular case follow up. The situation witnessed at the child’s home was simply intolerable. At the time of visit, child’s mother was away and only the grandmother was there as caretaker. The lady was handicapped and not capable of looking after the children. Upon further examination, it was revealed that the child was not even fed with the required amount of breast milk. We rescued the children and their mother and got permission to accommodate them at a Govt shelter home.
World Health Organization (WHO) says that malnutrition is by far the largest contributor to child mortality globally, currently present in 45 percent of all cases. Underweight births and inter-uterine growth restrictions are responsible for about 2.2 million child deaths annually in the world. Deficiencies in vitamin A or zinc cause 1 million deaths each year. In the above mentioned case the right to adequate nutrition has been negated. Giving effect to children’s right to adequate nutrition begins with ensuring proper nutrition in uterus and during the first two years. It also means ensuring the nutritional needs of girls and women of childbearing age and pregnant and lactating women are met. These groups are entitled to adequate nutrition and health for their own well-being, as reflected in Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by the UNICEF.
Signs and symptoms of malnutrition in children include:
- Loss of fat
- Breathing difficulties, a higher risk of respiratory failure
- Higher risk of hypothermia - abnormally low body temperature
- The total number of some types of white blood cells falls; consequently, the immune system is weakened, increasing the risk of infections.
- Higher susceptibility to feeling cold
- Longer healing times for wounds
- Longer recover times from infections
- Longer recovery from illnesses
- Reduced muscle mass
- Reduced tissue mass
- Tiredness, fatigue, or apathy
In more severe cases:
- Skin may become thin, dry, inelastic, pale, and cold
- Eventually, as fat in the face is lost, the cheeks look hollow and the eyes sunken
- Hair becomes dry and sparse, falling out easily
- Sometimes, severe malnutrition may lead to unresponsiveness (stupor)
- If calorie deficiency continues for long enough, there may be heart, liver and respiratory failure
- Total starvation is said to be fatal within 8 to 12 weeks (no calorie consumption at all).
The United Nations educational guides for children classify the rights outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the "3 Ps": Provision, Protection, and Participation. Among the three, ‘Provision’ clearly states the right of a child to be fed with a balanced diet for proper physical and mental development; Provision: Children have the right to an adequate standard of living, health care, education and services, and to play and recreation. These include a balanced diet, a warm bed to sleep in, and access to schooling.
Children who are severely malnourished typically experience slow behavioral development, even mental retardation may occur. Even when treated, it may have long-term effects in children, with impairments in mental function and digestive problems persisting - in some cases for the rest of their lives.
Malnutrition is caused mainly by not consuming the right balance of nutrients from major food groups. These include: Carbohydrates, Fruit and vegetables, Protein, Dairy, Fats and Water. Always remember the potential lifelong deadly effects of malnutrition, especially among children.
An apt quote by World Vision evidently summarizes the subject “Hunger is not just a stomach thing”