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Children’s nutrition critical for growth

Young children include toddlers and preschool children who upto 5 years of age, experience rapid cognitive, social-emotional and physical development.  These developmental changes are accompanied by changing nutrition needs to support the most critical stage of development throughout life.

One of the most critical health effects today is overweight and obesity. Children with overweight or obesity are more likely to experience immediate health effects such as increased risk of fractures, breathing difficulties, high blood pressure, insulin resistance as well as psychological and social problems, such as low self-esteem, difficulty making friends and even a higher likelihood of being bullied. Such children also experience difficulty in learning and have lower levels of school attendance.

As adults, they are more likely to have obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers. These diseases can affect their psychological wellbeing and economic productivity.

Deficiencies in this age can also cause lifelong effects. Iron deficiency for instance, which is very common in children around the world, affects cognitive development. Affected children have been shown to perform poorly at school. Other important nutrients include magnesium, vitamin D and calcium which are critical for bone development. When taken insufficiently, individuals can suffer bone problems later in life.

Child growth is used as a measure of the health and nutrition status, measured in height and weight.  Height almost doubles between birth and the age of three years, and on average increases by 6.5cm every year upto five years. Similarly, toddlers’ body weight increases 4 times by the age of 3, and continues to increase by an average of 5.5gram per day till puberty. Assessing growth is thus critical in your child’s regular clinic.

Also important to note is that toddlers’ fat mass decreases by almost 40% between 1 to 5 years. So in cases where babies are overweight from exclusive breastfeeding, they naturally lose weight with appropriate complementary feeding and weaning; giving nutrient rich foods and active feeding.

So do not be afraid to breastfeed your baby exclusively.

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Christine Nderitu

As a licensed Nutritionist and Public Health Practitioner, Christine, helps people lead healthy lifestyles through education and behaviour change practices that are simple and practical. Her area of expertise lies not just in nutrition management but in health education and promotion in HIV/AIDS, Adolescent Health, Maternal and Child Health as well as Non-Communicable Diseases, which she has engaged in for a decade. She is also a columnist in a leading local Daily. Christine has a keen interest in Non-Communicable Diseases prevention and control. She feels that the world needs more stories that celebrate and normalize desired (good) behaviour, and humanity. “We have many preventable and often manmade public health issues today.”