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Every mother wants only the best food and nutrition for her child. We track our baby’s growth very keenly. The moment when he seems to have grown taller and can reach up to his pram is such a moment of happiness! However, according to a latest survey conducted in India, there is a big problem we are overlooking. Experts have found that although our children are growing tall, they are NOT putting enough weight for their height! And this is happening because of some mistakes that we are making unknowingly…
In a recent study conducted by the National Health Family Survey (NHFS), experts have concluded some very interesting facts related to Indian children and their nutrition. They have noticed that most children below the age of five have attained the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standardisation of height in accordance to their age. This is great news, no doubt. However, their weight has shown little to almost NO improvement in the past decade! This is leading to a condition called ‘Wasting’ and ‘Stunting’.
Wasting In Indian Children – What Does This Mean?
Wasting is a medical condition associated with the gradual deterioration of an individual, usually with the loss of strength and muscle mass. It is followed by a lack of appetite which makes the condition worse. WHO suggests that wasting is a strong indicator of mortality in children below five years.
In 2005- 06, approximately 20% of children surveyed in India were wasted, while more than 6% were severely wasted. However in the 2015-16 survey, this proportion has increased to 21% and the severely wasted has gone up to 7.5%! Wasting among children has increased severely in the last 10 years and this is really dangerous.
The data obtained by NFHS was basis the survey they conducted on a large sample of children. In 2005-06, it was found that 40% of these children studied were stunted. This typically means that their height was lower than what it needs to be with respect to their age. The latest data indicates that stunting has reduced to 38.4% of the children surveyed, however this still is an unacceptably high percentage! Stunted growth among children is a reflection of poor food intake or perhaps starvation over a long period of time. Apart from this, the latest data also suggests that 35.7% of the children surveyed were underweight.
The Fault Is In The Diet
Many experts are of the opinion that this pattern of poor weight is an indicator of nutritional distress among children. “Wasting indicates nutritional shocks that have occurred in the recent past”, says the associate global coordinator of the People’s Health Movement, Amit Sengupta. A child who does not get a healthy, well balanced nutritional diet, first stops growing in height and in case this lack of nutrition is prolonged, they start losing weight too.
In India, while more of our children are now being fed well, there are some glaring mistakes parents are still committing. We need to check these and start rectifying them at once so our kids grow well both in height AND weight!
1. Incorrect Nutrition to Children in the First Two Years
The first two years in a child’s life are very crucial as formative years. As per Dr. Veena Shatrugna, an expert in child nutrition, “If children are fed reasonably well during the first two years of their lives, and later during the growth phase, they shoot in height and even look spindly thin.” believes. She also says that however, if there is no food, children do not put adequate weight to optimise with their height. All of us understand the value of these formative years – but do we take adequate care? Tummy troubles, infections, allergies can all affect what your child eats and absorbs at this time and need immediate attention by the paediatrician. Experts say that not exclusively breastfeeding the baby till he is 6 months old is also a reason his nutritional needs are affected.
2. Focusing Only on the Quantity
As mothers, we always try and increase our kids’ appetite and the amount of food in his plate. However, it’s not just how much food you feed your child, but also what you feed is that matters. Your little one’s tummy might be full, but perhaps not his nutritional needs. Therefore, we must not restrict our child’s diet to just whole grains like rice and basic veggies, but also include other nutrient rich food items like eggs, nuts, fruits, vegetables and milk.
3. Feeding Packaged Food
We all know that home cooked food is the best for a child’s diet. However for the sake of convenience and lack of time, many people opt to feed packaged baby food to their little one. Some of these foods can have additives and preservatives that interfere with the nutrition your child gets – this can even be harmful to his health. Plus, in this process, the idea of home cooked nutritious meals that a child can smell, enjoy and eat, also gets faded. Experts say that the focus must be to feed your children locally sourced healthy food that they will get accustomed to.
4. Not Feeding Enough Iron-Rich Food
Finally, another alarming statistic that the study has revealed is this: over 58 per cent of children below five years of age in India are anaemic! This means that they have lower than average levels of haemoglobin in their blood. This has far more serious consequences going beyond height and weight. Anaemia leaves kids exhausted, vulnerable to infections and it can also affect their brain development. Experts believe that the main reason behind this is that we are not feeding enough iron-rich food such as eggs, poultry and pulses to our kids. While poor socio-economic conditions are to be partly blamed, our ignorance about this vital nutrient is a big culprit. Many pregnant women in India are also anaemic due to inadequate iron intake during their pregnancy. This automatically means that their newborn turns out to be weaker.
Stunting and wasting are serious problems for children as they affect their overall development. They delay motor development and also lead to impaired cognitive function – the results of which are mostly irreversible. It is therefore imperative for us to pay attention to what the children eat as their nutritional needs are largely different than adults.
On a positive note, the findings of the health survey also reflect that children who recently have started eating more nutritious food than what they did earlier are able to catch up on their normal weight with respect to their heights. Let’s start paying more attention to what we feed our little ones and if it’s adequate, starting now!