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Lack of proper diet and nutrition in children

Dr. Sushant Mane & Dr Mukesh Sanklecha
Wednesday, November 2, 2016, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Modern life is facing with many changes in human life, however, in case of diet that has been under scanner now. The diet has become a potential contributor to the increase in immune-mediated diseases. India needs to tackle double burden paradox as both obesity and malnutrition have been a major concern for health of children.

It is a certainly a paradox that a country where nearly 43 per cent children are victim of acute malnutrition, obesity was not supposed to be a concern. But, reality is altogether different now. Lack of proper diet, junk food and sedentary lifestyle are leading children from both socio-economically well off and lower income groups to silent self-destruction.

According to the World Health Organisation, the trend is particularly alarming because the obesity epidemic has the potential to negate many of the health benefits that have been achieved so far. India, which is already, is the third most obese country after US, China is showing increasing incidence of over-weight children in urban areas.

According to a study published in Lancet, the US topped the list with 13 per cent of the obese people worldwide in 2013, while China and India together accounted for 15 per cent of the world's obese population, with 46 million and 30 million obese people, respectively.

The interim report of WHO Commission says, if current trends continue, over 70 million infants and children will be overweight or obese by 2025, the vast majority living in low- and middle-income countries. Low income countries like India has had high rates of child under nutrition and stunting, but now the rates of childhood obesity are also rising rapidly. As per National Family and Health Survey (NFHS-3), 48% of children under age five years are stunted (too short for their age) which indicates that, half of the country’s children are chronically malnourished.

Obesity is particularly worrying in children because it is associated with a wide range of health complications and it is considered the core of many diseases. Increased weight carries significant health risks for some cancers, diabetes, heart diseases and strokes.

India faces two major challenges on diet and nutrition front especially among children, first being malnutrition among children because of poverty and the other being lack of proper diet among children from well-to-do families. Lack of proper diet and malnutrition has become main contributor which increases low immunity related diseases.

According to research, sugar, salt, fats etc, if not consumed in moderation, can damage the heart, kidneys, and waistlines. Moreover, the modern diet also damages the immune system. The modern lifestyle is also typified by reduced exposure to microorganisms, increased exposure to pollution, heightened levels of stress, and a host of other exceptionally well-reviewed variables that likely contribute to immune dysfunction.

Immune system weakness goes much further than simply making us more susceptible to colds and flus and other viruses. In fact, a poor immune system can put us at higher risk for serious non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, cancer, autoimmune, Alzheimer’s, and others. Due to lack of nutrition education, middle class families prefer diets which are harmful for overall health. Over-indulgence in sugar, salt, and fat leads to many health complications among children especially affecting their immune health.

While today’s modern diet may provide beneficial protection from micro- and macronutrient deficiencies, overabundance of calories and macronutrients that compose our diet may all lead to increased inflammation and reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.

It is very shocking and to be noted that even if people are aware that lack of proper diet may lead to health hazards, they do not follow a disciplined diet pattern for their kids.

According to a study, simple sugars also reduce white blood cell phagocytosis and possibly increase inflammatory cytokine markers in the blood. It may be noted that the complex carbohydrate fiber (but not starches), such as that found in fruits and vegetable, appear to reduce inflammation and they should be given preference.

Experts are not only warning parents and kids but they also offer simple solutions beyond medication. According to them awareness is the key for healthy diet for children. First of all we need to understand in a very clear term that a child’s immune system is underdeveloped which make them more prone to infection than adults. Many foods such as fish, fresh fruit and vegetables help to account for this by giving the immune system a boost. Foods such as sugar, flour, sweeteners and processed foods, however, have the opposite effect. So why not begin with healthy items first. Is it easy to tell or guide your wards? No. We need to intelligently make kids aware about the benefits of healthy food and educate them about the hazards of lack of proper diet.

Children should know about the benefits of natural foods and gradually they will avoid those processed foods, grains, sugary foods, etc. as much as possible. They need to know that calories counting is not always helpful and what matters the most is eating well.    

In the Indian context, things are not as easy as it seems. Malnutrition is a major challenge here. Several surveys and studies highlight the implications and impact of malnutrition, especially in children in the country.

In India, malnutrition is the root cause of the deaths of nearly 3 million children every year. Studies indicate that millions of children succumbed to lack of proper diet and their bodies and brains fail to develop properly. Experts call for immediate comprehensive action.

As per National Family and Health Survey (NFHS-3), conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), 48% of children under age five years are stunted (too short for their age) which indicates that, half of the country’s children are chronically malnourished. Acute malnutrition causes irreparable damage to body and it makes them prone to more illnesses than his peers. 19.8% of children fewer than 5 years in the country are victims of acute malnourishment. Over 43% of children under age five years are underweight for their age, reveals  NFHS-3.

Today malnutrition is a global problem, especially in underdeveloped and developing countries, however, India not only malnutrition but lack of proper diet that make all children vulnerable to diseases. We need to accelerate efforts to improve nutrition, which holds the key to further progress.

India’s major concern is malnutrition. The UN World Food Programme has predicted meanwhile that 24 million more children will be malnourished by 2050 as a result of climate change.

According to experts, the impact of lack of proper diet can be devastating. If malnourished children do survive they grow up physically short, usually with lower IQs, and are much more likely to drop out of school and fail to get a job. Success depends on ensuring local markets are accessible and functioning, on improving education about nutrition and on investing in better research.

So, it is high time to pay proper attention to immunity related issues. We need to act responsibly and educate families and children about the harmful effects of unhealthy diet. Since India is facing double burden paradox, experts call for a balance and sensitive approach to address both obesity, malnutrition problems. Children should made aware about benefits of proper intake of key nutrients to take on immunity related complications and lead a healthy life.

(Authors are Associate Professor in Paediatrics, J. J. Hospital; Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologists, Bombay Hospital, respectively)


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