29 May 2012

Nigeria: 'At Risk' Nutrients Are Key to Infant Wellbeing


Nutrients are substances required for growth and development of the child, but there are specific nutrients children may not be likely to take in adequate quantities to support their development and immunity. Such nutrients are known as "nutrients at risk", explains Professor Emmanuel Ekanem, Head of Paediatric Gastronterology and Nutrition Unit, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria.

According to Ekanem, malnutrition means to be poorly nourished. "There could be undernutrition and overnutrition. Both have important consequences for longevity, heart rate, blood pressure and metabolic processes. In the standard chart of growth, for WHO, 41 percent of Nigerian children are stunted, because their height-for-age is lower than it should be, while 23 percent are severely stunted and that is a major problem.

"When there is such stunting, you can be sure those children also have micronutrient deficiency. Their physique and cognitive development is compromised. Intervention with adequate nutrition support and environmental and educational stimulation, can to some extent, reverse the effects, if done in early childhood and infancy."

He recalls that the World Health Organisation, Food & Agricultural Organisation and the American Academy of Paediatrics identify five nutrients, or micronutrients, as being at risk."They are vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, iodine and zinc. Thesre are nutrients children are prone not to take in adequate quantities while they are growing up.

"Vitamin A is important for immunity, growth and cell division. A lack could have consequences ranging from being prone to infections, difficulty seeing, dryness of lips and blurred vision.

"Zinc is important for immunity, brain, development and metabolic activities, deficiency causes intellectectual underdevelopment and predisposition to infections. Iron is important for blood and intellectual development. A child that is deficient in iron, will have difficulty learning and would become lethargic.

"Iodine is important for development of thyroxine and brain development. Vitamin D is essential for the bones and to fight infection. So consequences of micronutrient deficiency are reduction in intellectual development, physical growth and resistance to infections. That is why these nutrientsmust be supplied in ample quantity at the right time."

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