How nu­tri­tion en­hances early child­hood de­vel­op­ment

Weekly Trust - - Feature | Health - Ojoma Akor

“My chil­dren grew fast, they walked and spoke early, and are do­ing very well in school,” said Mrs Hus­seini Mustapha, a mother of two. “They learn very quickly and do a lot of things them­selves. Aisha who is four years old re­cites num­bers, al­pha­bets and po­ems that many of her mates can­not,” she said.

Mrs Mustapha said she is a happy mother be­cause her two kids are smart and healthy. She said she en­sured they were ex­clu­sively breast fed for six months, and there­after gave them fre­quent meals from a va­ri­ety of food groups to meet their nu­tri­tional needs.

Ex­perts have said that nu­tri­tion plays a very im­por­tant role in brain de­vel­op­ment dur­ing the early years of a child. Nu­tri­tion in Early Child­hood De­vel­op­ment (ECD) es­pe­cially within the first five years of a child ‘s life en­ables him or her to grow well, live healthy, and also re­al­ize their full de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tials in life, the ex­perts said.

They warn that in­ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion has neg­a­tive im­pli­ca­tions for early child­hood de­vel­op­ment, and urged moth­ers to pro­vide exclusive breast feed­ing, and ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion, that is a diet that meets the nu­tri­ents needs for op­ti­mal growth and de­vel­op­ment, as well as stim­u­la­tion for their chil­dren.

“Good nu­tri­tion is not just about strong bod­ies. It is equally im­por­tant for strong minds. Cer­tainly a lack of nu­tri­tious food can lead to dis­ease and im­pede a child’s growth. But con­di­tions linked to mal­nu­tri­tion can also cause cog­ni­tive de­lays that af­fect a child’s abil­ity to learn and even earn a living later in life.

“Health is­sues re­lated to nu­tri­tion can also do life­long harm. For ex­am­ple di­ar­rhoea can harm fit­ness, growth and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment, and as a re­sult im­pede later school per­for­mance,” said United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (UNICEF) in a book ‘Early Mo­ments Mat­ter for Ev­ery Child’.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO), Early Child De­vel­op­ment (ECD) en­com­passes phys­i­cal, so­cio emo­tional, cog­ni­tive and mo­tor de­vel­op­ments be­tween 0-8 years of age. The early child pe­riod is con­sid­ered to be the most im­por­tant de­vel­op­men­tal phase through­out the life­span.

“The early years are crit­i­cal, be­cause this is the pe­riod in life when the brain de­vel­ops most rapidly and has a high ca­pac­ity for change, and the foun­da­tion is laid for health and well­be­ing through­out life. Healthy Early Child De­vel­op­ment (ECD) strongly in­flu­ences well-be­ing, obe­sity/stunt­ing, men­tal health, heart dis­ease, com­pe­tence in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy, crim­i­nal­ity, and eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion through­out life.

“What hap­pens to the child in the early years is crit­i­cal for the child’s de­vel­op­men­tal tra­jec­tory and life course,” said WHO.

Dr Bamidele Omo­tola, a nu­tri­tion spe­cial­ist with the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (UNICEF) said that ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion, early stim­u­la­tion and caring en­vi­ron­ments in the first 1000-days’ win­dow are im­por­tant for brain de­vel­op­ment and set the life-long foun­da­tion for hu­man cap­i­tal.

Ex­plain­ing the im­por­tance of nu­tri­tion on child de­vel­op­ment, he said in ges­ta­tion and in­fancy, the brain is an ‘en­ergy hog’, con­sum­ing be­tween 50 and 75 per cent of all the en­ergy ab­sorbed by the body from food, in­clud­ing fats, pro­teins, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

“In­ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion, dur­ing that pe­riod af­fects the struc­ture and func­tions of the brain in ways that are dif­fi­cult to off­set later,” said Dr Omo­tola.

“High stress also af­fects the ab­sorp­tion ca­pac­ity of other vi­tal

or­gans, po­ten­tially di­min­ish­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments, such as those used to treat chil­dren with mal­nu­tri­tion in emer­gen­cies,” he added.

Speak­ing dur­ing a me­dia di­a­logue on early child­hood de­vel­op­ment in Nige­ria, or­gan­ised by UNICEF in Kano, he said smarter in­ter­ven­tions should there­fore link nu­tri­tion with stress re­duc­tion, si­mul­ta­ne­ously im­prov­ing a child’s nu­tri­tional sta­tus and brain de­vel­op­ment.

Dr Ire­ti­ola Ba­baniyi, a re­tired Chief Con­sul­tant Pe­di­a­tri­cian and Med­i­cal Di­rec­tor at Joy­land Med­i­cal Cen­tre and Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal, Abuja, in an in­ter­view with Daily trust Satur­day said when chil­dren were not well nour­ished, their im­mu­nity weak­ens and they be­come prone to many dis­eases. Mal­nu­tri­tion is a

pre­dis­pos­ing fac­tor to high mor­tal­ity among chil­dren.

The Head Di­etet­ics Depart­ment at the Na­tional Hospi­tal, Abuja, Mrs Sarah Abagi, said zero to two years is a crit­i­cal time in the life of ev­ery child.

She said it is the time for proper brain de­vel­op­ment and po­ten­tial for aca­demic per­for­mance and achieve­ments, adding that there were key nu­tri­ents re­quired to build the brain at that age such as iron, zinc and pro­tein.

Abagi said if a child of that age suf­fers from mal­nu­tri­tion, it would af­fect his or her school or work de­vel­op­ment and per­for­mance.

“Once this pe­riod is passed, the child’s learn­ing and in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity is lim­ited, he or she will not be able to do well in school and the child is more likely to drop out of school,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to Abagi, the dam­age be­tween 0 to two years was ir­re­versible while chil­dren that were two years and above suf­fer from a type of mal­nu­tri­tion called Kwash­iorkor but could get well when treated.

She said mal­nu­tri­tion in chil­dren per­pet­u­ates poverty in the fam­ily and the coun­try “be­cause that child who is not able to go to school or drops out of school will end up like her par­ents, with lim­ited achieve­ments and not able to con­trib­ute mean­ing­fully to the so­ci­ety. It is a vi­cious cy­cle.”

She added that the fact that Nige­ria has an es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion mal­nour­ished chil­dren if not ad­dressed could por­tend a bleak fu­ture for the coun­try.

Swad­chet Sankey, Ed­u­ca­tion Spe­cial­ist , UNICEF, said early brain stim­u­la­tion is the foun­da­tion of learn­ing and that achiev­ing ECD in­ter­ven­tions, early in life set a tra­jec­tory for good health and long life, lower car­dio­vas­cu­lar, non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases and well-be­ing.

“With ECD, not only do chil­dren sur­vive, they thrive. Early nu­tri­tion pro­grammes can raise adult wages by 5-50%. Chil­dren who es­cape stunt­ing are 33% more likely to es­cape poverty as adults. Re­duc­tions in stunt­ing can in­crease Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct by 4-11% in Asia and Africa,” Sankey also said.

Nige­ria is amongst the top 10 coun­tries con­tribut­ing to 250 mil­lion chil­dren un­der five at risk of not reach­ing their po­ten­tial be­cause their de­vel­op­ment has been stunted by stress, lack of early stim­u­la­tion and poor nu­tri­tion. The ef­fects, she noted, will ul­ti­mately im­pact a coun­try’s growth

Ear­lier, Ge­of­fery Njoku, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist, UNICEF, said the work­shop was aimed at ori­ent­ing me­dia on the sit­u­a­tion of Early Child­hood Care De­vel­op­ment (ECD) and to cre­ate ad­vo­cacy plat­form for im­proved me­dia sup­port on it.

Rabiu Musa, com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fi­cer, UNICEF Kano field of­fice added that it was aimed at cre­at­ing vis­i­bil­ity for Early Child­hood Care De­vel­op­ment (ECD) sit­u­a­tion and in­ter­ven­tions in Nige­ria, share ex­pe­ri­ences on best prac­tices and chal­lenges of ECD in­ter­ven­tions and, jointly with the me­dia, prof­fer so­lu­tions to the chal­lenges.

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