The nutritional needs of children and adolescents are different from those of adults because children are growing and developing. Children need a wide range of nutritious foods, with high intake of important minerals and vitamins such as protein and calcium. If your child’s intake of good food is poor, they can fail to gain or lose weight. This may be followed by failure to grow taller.
Why is nutrition so important in children?
Infants and children are more likely to suffer from poor nutrition than compared to adults. There are a number of reasons for this.
Low Nutritional Stores: New-born infants have low stores of fat and protein. The smaller your child, the less reserves of energy they have. This means that they can only cope with starvation for shortened periods of time.
High Nutritional Demands for Growth: The amount of nutrition children require is greatest during infancy. This is because of their rapid growth during this period. When your child is 4 months old, 30% of their nutritional intake is used for growth. By the age of 1 year, this falls to 5%.
Rapid Development in the Nervous System: Your child’s brain grows rapidly during the last four months of pregnancy and also during the first two years of life. The connections between the nerve cells in the brain are being formed during this time. Good nutrition is important to ensure that this occurs properly.
Illness: Your child’s nutrition may be compromised following an episode of illness or surgery. The body’s energy requirements are increased, thus intake of food and nutrients should be increased.
Adolescence (11-19 years)
There is an important growth period during adolescence, in which your child will experience a marked increase in the rate of weight gain and height. The growth spurt in children begins on average at 10 to 11 years in girls and at 12 to 13 years in boys, although there is wide variation. During the adolescent growth spurt boys gain about 20 centimeters in height and 20 kilograms in weight. Girls gain around 16 centimeters and 16 kilograms. The maximum weight gain tends to occur about three months after that for height. Adolescence is a very important period for gaining calcium and for building up strong bones, especially in girls. The majority of bone formation occurs during adolescence; thus it is important to ensure adequate calcium intake. Data from studies suggest that for most healthy adolescents the maximal calcium balance is achieved with intakes of between 1200 – 1500 milligrams a day.
Long term importance of nutrition in children
Growth and nutrition are closely related to each other. The average height of a population reflects its nutritional status. In the developed world, the population has gotten taller in height. In undeveloped countries, there are shorter children, due to lack of nutrition and energy intake for adequate growth.
Disease in adult life
There is evidence suggesting that undernutrition whilst the mother is carrying her baby can result in growth restriction. This is associated with an increased incidence of diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and lung disease in later life.
Australia is involved in a worldwide obesity epidemic, affecting children of all ages. Overweight children are likely to become obese adults, and an overweight child with an obese parent has more than a 70 per cent chance of being obese in young adulthood. Obesity occurs when the total amount of calories that are consumed exceed the total that children use up through metabolic processes (such as playing, sweating and breathing). A gross measure of the degree of obesity can be determined by the Body Mass Index (BMI). This is determined by:
BMI = body weight (in kg) / stature (height, in meters) squared
While in adults, the BMI cut-offs internationally accepted as definitions of overweight and obesity (25 kg/m2 and 30 kg/m2) are based on increased risks of morbidity and mortality, no such outcome based definition exists for children. Definitions for children and adolescents have generally been based on data sets collected from other groups of children of corresponding ages.
The use of BMI is less appropriate for infants, children and adolescents because of different rates of gain in weight and height during development. It is common for children to gain weight quickly and their BMI may increase rapidly during puberty. For this reason, it is important to compare BMI calculations against age and gender percentile charts. For example, if a child has a BMI in the 65th percentile, 65% of kids of the same gender and age have a lower BMI. A child above the 95th percentile is considered overweight because 95% of the population has a BMI less than he or she does. A child whose BMI is at the 50th percentile is close to the average of the population. A child below the 5th percentile is considered underweight because 95% of the population has a higher BMI. Children can also have a high BMI because he or she has a large frame or increased muscle mass, not excess fat.
Therefore, it is very essential for parents and care takers to educate themselves on this subject matter so that children are not deprived of any of these, and ensures a holistic development of a child.
Disability Entrepreneurship And Leadership (DEAL) Foundation works across the districts of Gadag and Bengaluru to promote sustainable livelihood opportunities for persons with disabilities.
We are working with local communities in the district of Gadag to establish a community based resource, drop-in and contact centre with a focus on early intervention and integrated education. We are working to develop a local early intervention ecosystem cantered around development and care of children with special needs.