Nutrition and Growth
Why it is important
*video library under development
More than one third of all child deaths every year around the world are attributed to malnutrition, specifically undernutrition, which weakens the body's resistance to illness.
If a woman is malnourished during pregnancy or if her child is malnourished during the first two years of life, the child's physical and mental growth and development will be slowed. This cannot be corrected when the child is older – it will affect the child for the rest of his or her life.
Malnutrition develops when the body does not get the proper amount of energy (calories), proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients required to keep the organs and tissues healthy and functioning well. A child or adult can be malnourished by being undernourished or overnourished.
In most parts of the world malnutrition occurs when people are undernourished. Primary reasons for undernourishment, especially of children and women, are poverty, lack of food, repeated illnesses, inappropriate feeding practices, lack of care and poor hygiene. Undernourishment raises the risk of malnutrition. The risk is greatest in the first two years of life. The risk further increases when diarrhoea and other illnesses sap the body of the proteins, minerals and nutrients required to stay healthy.
When a household does not have enough food and has conditions that make diarrhoea and other illnesses common, children are the most vulnerable to becoming malnourished. When children become sick, they lose energy and nutrients quickly, which puts their lives at risk faster than adults.
Overnutrition is when a person is overweight or obese. It can cause diabetes in childhood and cardiovascular disease and other diseases in adulthood. Sometimes children eat large quantities of foods that are high in energy but not rich in other necessary nutrients, such as sugary drinks or fried, starchy foods. In such cases improving the quality of the child's diet is crucial along with increasing his or her level of physical activity.
Children with chronic diseases, such as HIV, are even more susceptible to malnutrition. Their bodies have a harder time absorbing vitamins, iron and other nutrients. Children with disabilities may need extra attention to make sure they get the nutrition they need.
All girls and boys have the right to a caring and protective environment, with mothers, fathers or other caregivers making sure they are well nourished with a healthy diet.
Poor nutrition during the mother's pregnancy or the child's first two years can slow a child's mental and physical development for life.
Children need a well-balanced diet that includes protein and energy foods as well as vitamins and minerals, such as iron and vitamin A, to ensure good health and development.
From birth to age 1, children should be weighed every month and from age 1 to age 2, at least every three months.
If a child does not appear to be growing, the child should be seen by a trained health worker.
1. A young child should grow and gain weight rapidly. From birth to age 2, children should be weighed regularly to assess growth. If regular weighing shows that the child is not gaining weight, or the parents or other caregivers see the child is not growing, something is wrong. The child needs to be seen by a trained health worker.Supporting Information
2. Breastmilk alone is the only food and drink an infant needs in the first six months of life. After six months, a baby needs a variety of other foods in addition to breastmilk to ensure healthy growth and development.Supporting Information
3. From the age of 6–8 months a child needs to eat two to three times per day and three to four times per day starting at 9 months – in addition to breastfeeding. Depending on the child's appetite, one or two nutritious snacks, such as fruit or bread with nut paste, may be needed between meals. The baby should be fed small amounts of food that steadily increase in variety and quantity as he or she grows.Supporting Information
4. Feeding times are periods of learning, love and interaction, which promote physical, social and emotional growth and development. The parent or other caregiver should talk to children during feeding, and treat and feed girls and boys equally and patiently.Supporting Information
5. Children need vitamin A to help resist illness, protect their eyesight and reduce the risk of death. Vitamin A can be found in many fruits and vegetables, red palm oil, eggs, dairy products, liver, fish, meat, fortified foods and breastmilk. In areas where vitamin A deficiency is common, high-dose vitamin A supplements can also be given every four to six months to children aged 6 months to 5 years.Supporting Information
6. Children need iron-rich foods to protect their physical and mental abilities and to prevent anaemia. The best sources of iron are animal sources, such as liver, lean meats and fish. Other good sources are iron-fortified foods and iron supplements.Supporting Information
7. Iodine in a pregnant woman's and young child's diet is especially critical for the development of the child's brain. It is essential to help prevent learning disabilities and delayed development. Using iodized salt instead of ordinary salt provides pregnant women and their children with as much iodine as they need.Supporting Information
8. As the child's intake of foods and drinks increases, the risk of diarrhoea substantially increases. Contamination of foods with germs is a major cause of diarrhoea and other illnesses that cause children to lose nutrients and energy needed for growth and development. Good hygiene, safe water and proper handling, preparation and storing of foods are crucial to prevent illnesses.Supporting Information
9. During an illness, children need additional fluids and encouragement to eat regular meals, and breastfeeding infants need to breastfeed more often. After an illness, children need to be offered more food than usual to replenish the energy and nourishment lost due to the illness.Supporting Information
10. Very thin and/or swollen children need special medical care. They should be taken to a trained health worker or health facility for assessment and treatment.Supporting Information