Malnutrition affects the mental and physical development of a child from the time it begins to grow in its mother’s womb. If the mother is malnourished the child is very likely to be unhealthy at the time of birth. From conception to 24 months of age is the critical period. Primarily poor access to nutritional diets is the cause of malnutrition in both mother and child. In nutritional anemia the blood hemoglobin level drops to an abnormally low level due to deficiency in food nutrients (iron, folic acid and vitamin B12). The level of iron in a child’s blood at the time of birth depends upon the store of iron in the mother during pregnancy. Iron deficiency hampers both mental and physical growth in children as iron plays an important role during rapid growth of a child. The brain is the fastest developing organ during infancy and childhood. The damage is irreversible. But iron deficiency is preventable with timely intervention.
Anemia, Iron deficiency and Iron-deficiency anemia are three conditions with minor differences. Abnormally low hemoglobin level due to pathological conditions is defined as anemia. Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anemia. Inadequate dietary iron causes iron deficiency. In the case of a girl, increased blood loss can be a cause of anemia. Anemia, when caused by severe deficiency of iron is termed as iron-deficiency anemia. Other causes of anemia are deficiency of folic acid (folate), chronic infections (especially from malaria) and hereditary hemoglobinopathies.
Iron is needed by the body to make red blood cells. Improper nutrition significantly decreases the child’s ability to learn and remember and the child is unable to perform outdoor physical activities like sports. It also blunts intellectual capacity. This can be solved by changing nutritional attitudes and behaviour of adolescent girls (who would become mothers within few years).
There are low cost solutions to fight iron deficiency. Most of the iron compounds in our body are continuously broken down and re-cycled. As a result very little iron is lost from the body except when bleeding occurs. Women with heavy loss of menstrual blood and whose diet contains inadequate absorbable iron develop serious iron-deficiency. To compensate this loss, women in their childbearing age must absorb an average of 1.3 mg of iron per day (primarily to make up for the loss of iron in menstrual blood).
For children between 12 to 60 months, doctors prescribe one tablet of 20 mg elemental iron and 10mg of folate (IFA) for 100 days in a year. Iron and folic acid tablets are distributed to young children by our health department through RCH II program run by the Department of Women and Child Development. Children between 6 to 60 months are given one millilitre of IFA syrup for hundred days in a year.
Daily consumption of honey mixed in warm water can help combat anemia and increase the red blood cell count. This can help raise energy levels and cell renewal and rejuvenation. However, children under the age of one should not consume honey.