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The big 'N'

07 October 2008

Nutrition is the cornerstone of good health. Avoid unnecessary health problems by giving your child balanced and complete nutrition.

As parents, we may hear the word "nutrition" ever so often from doctors. However as a mum myself, I know that a strong foundation in nutrition for a child is essential to ensure development, both physically and mentally.

A well-nourished child will not only grow at a normal rate but will also go on to achieving his full potential in life.

Children who receive too much or too little nutrition are at risk of developing health problems. The Third National Health and Morbidity Survey 2006 showed:

* The prevalence of underweight children in Malaysia was 13.23%. It also showed that there were more boys (14.45%) who were underweight compared to girls (11.97%). A 1998 study of children in rural areas showed the figures to be 25.5% for girls and 29.8% for boys.

* On the other hand, the prevalence of overweight children had increased from 2.0% in 1998 to 5.36% in 2006.

Malnutrition may lead to micronutrient and macronutrient deficiencies. Micronutrient deficiencies include iron and calcium deficiencies. This may occur even in children who appear to be eating well, as a result of an imbalanced diet.

Macronutrient deficiency gives rise to problems such as kwashiorkor and marasmus while an excess in macronutrients may lead to obesity.

Ironing out the facts

Iron is an essential component in the production of red blood cells. Insufficient intake of iron leads to iron deficiency anaemia, a condition where the haemoglobin level is reduced. This condition often leads to lethargy in adults. However, in children, the symptoms may be more varied.

The effects of iron deficiency anaemia in children include:

*Fatigue and irritability

*Poor concentration and short attention span

*Poor school performance, particularly in maths

The C and D of nutrition

A diet low in vitamin D and calcium during childhood may lead to rickets in later years, particularly in girls following menopause. We are lucky to have an abundance of sunlight in Malaysia as it helps to convert vitamin D from the inactive to the active phase. However, it is also important to consume foods rich in calcium, such as milk, yoghurt, cheese and anchovies to ensure strong and healthy bones.

Scary O

Obesity is a growing problem, not only in Malaysia but also in a number of countries around the world. This can be attributed to several factors, namely the availability of processed foods which are high in fats, overnutrition or excessive intake of food, and lack of physical activity.

Unlike children of yesteryear who spent their days playing with their neighbours outdoors, running, cycling, playing football or badminton, a large number of children today spend their evenings indoors, doing homework, attending one class one after another, or playing games on their computers or games console.

This article was first published in The Star on 28. September 2008

For further reading, kindly visit www.thestar.com.my

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