Common nutritional deficiencies in children

Childhood obesity is very common health problem in developing countries due to over nutrition; yet research shows that most schoolchildren are deficient in at least in one vitamin or mineral, and many have multiple deficiencies.

By Rachana Kalpekar, Dietician

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Published: Sun 18 Aug 2013, 12:11 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 6:43 PM

This is not to do with quantity of food they eat but with the quality of food they eat. The question on the table is how these deficiencies can be reduced. The most desirable pathway is through a diversified diet. Vitamins and minerals are found in different food types, and maintaining their balance requires a diversified diet.

Here are some very common & prevalent deficiencies found in children & their nutritional management.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is very common in children in UAE. Vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets; it also interferes with Calcium & bone metabolism. Reduced bone mineral density, impaired muscle function, low intestinal calcium absorption rate are common in children with Vitamin D deficiency.

Inadequate exposure to sunlight in children due to hot weather is major cause of vitamin D deficiency along with dietary deficiency. Very little vitamin D is found in natural food. So sunlight exposure especially at early morning (10 to 15 min) is very important along with vitamin D enriched & fortified foods. Encourage children for outdoor activities.

Natural dietary sources of vitamin D are fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines) or fish livers (cod liver oil), milk and dairy products, egg yolks, and beef liver.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is important for body’s synthesis of a substance called collagen which acts as primary prevention barrier for infections. Severe deficiency of vitamin C leads to Scurvy. Deficiency of vitamin C can increase the risk of infections as well as deficiency of iron as vitamin C helps in iron absorption. Citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato juice, and potatoes, red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe are good sources of Vitamin C.

Fiber: Most adults do not get adequate amounts of fiber in their diet. Unfortunately, children are following in their parents footsteps. Constipation is very common problem in children because of fiber deficiency. Kids need fiber to help keep their digestive system in tip top shape and prevent constipation.

The best sources of fiber are whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. Encourage children to have fruit rather than readymade fruit juices. Switch to whole wheat pastas, brown rice and whole grain bread.

Calcium: Calcium is also often deficient. Although kids get adequate amounts of calcium from the milk they drink during infancy, milk consumption begins to drop with age because of their preference for fizzy & soft drinks. This means that older children don’t get enough of this important bone strengthening mineral.

Although the best sources of calcium are milk & milk products, allergy & intolerance to milk; easily leads to calcium deficiency. Deficiency of calcium in these children can be tackled by appropriate milk substitute & calcium enriched food supplements.

Iron: Iron plays very important role in growth and development. In adequate intake of iron can leads to iron deficiency anemia in children. Untreated iron deficiency in children can cause fatigue, weakness, breathlessness, loss of appetite, poor concentration.

Mild iron deficiency can be prevented or corrected by eating iron-rich foods. Red meat, poultry, green leafy vegetables, dates, dry nuts, lentils, soya bean are very good source of iron.

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