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Role of nutrition in addressing stunting and overweight problems in toddlers

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‘Right Growth’ in toddlers is a prominent worry amongst today’s parents. They are constantly anxious
whether their toddler is receiving the right nutrition. In fact, in today’s time this concern is valid as
recent statistics from UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group jointly highlight thatthe global burden of
stunting in under-5 children is alarming. It is not just stunting that is worrying, but the fact that 38.3
million children globally, under the age of five are overweight.
According to Global Nutrition Report, India holds almost a third (31%) of the global burden for stunting.
It is the country with the largest number of children who are stunted at 46.6 million, followed by Nigeria
(13.9 million) and Pakistan (10.7 million). The urban prevalence of stunting on average is 19.2%
compared with 26.8% in rural areas. India is also amongst the countries with more than a million
children, who are overweight, as per Global Nutrition Report.
Dr. Marion M. Aw, Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, National University Health System,
Singapore says “In 2018, 55% of all stunting cases in children under five years of age occurred in Asia.
Two out of five stunted children in the world live in Southern Asia. Factors leading to poor development
among children <5 years of age in developing countries include high rates of infection, deficient care,
lack of stimulation and education, and instability at home. Poor nutrition has an adverse impact on child
development, regardless of their severity.”
UNDERSTANDING A TODDLER’S GROWTH PATTERN
Childhood is the foundation year for growth. Number of diseases acquired during this period may carry
over to adulthood or are risk factors for adult diseases. Hence right nutrition combined with ample
physical activity is the key to a healthy and well-nourished child.
Children grow in natural, predictable steps, moving from one milestone to the next. Nutrition and
physical activity are must for any child to have a right growth. Emotional and social development begins
at age two – physical development, cognitive development, language, sensory and motor skills begin to
refine.
Linear bone growth is the primary driver of whole body growth – is enabled by intake of sufficient and
appropriate dietary protein and other key nutrients.These nutrients, in turn, stimulate the growth plate
of long bones, and permit linked muscle growth and organ growth.
WHAT IS HIDDEN HUNGER?
Lack of micronutrients in a toddler’s diet can lead to hidden hunger – where the child is eating well, but
the food being consumed is low on micro-nutrients. Deficiencies of some micronutrients, such as iron,
magnesium and zinc, result in anorexia.
Also, several micronutrients, including zinc, iron and vitamin A, are associated with immune function
which in turn affect growth. Children perceived as picky eaters had significantly lower intakes of certain
micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamins A, B6, C, E, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin compared to non-
picky eaters.
ROLE OF NUTRITIION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Improved nutrition can lessen or even eliminate the negative impact of infections on growth. Good
nutrition helps in strengthening the immune system, compensating for malabsorption, reallocation or
losses of key nutrients, allowing for catch-up growth following infection, enhancing appetite and
favoring the growth of beneficial gut microorganisms.
From a physical activity perspective, WHO recommends that children should accumulate at least 60
minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. Amounts of physical activity greater
than 60 minutes provide additional health benefits. In fact, a study reported that only 17% of Indian
children aged 3–11 years met the WHO recommendations for physical activity levels (at least 60 min per
day). Generally, children who engaged in physical activities consumed more fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Irfan Shaikh, Head Pediatric Nutrition – Scientific & Medical Affairs, Abbott’s Nutrition business
said, “’Right Growth’ in toddlers is a combination of right nutrition and physical exercise. The age from
two to six is the prime time for children to get the right amount of nutrients that lay the foundations to
help them grow to their maximum potential. It is important for parents to understand that it is not just
about solving picky eating behaviour – but it is more to do with how we are getting the essential
nutrients including micro-nutrients to our toddlers. If corrective course is taken in early childhood, it will
help in raising a healthy adult.”

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