Nutritional Deficiency in Children and How to Overcome it?


What is Nutritional Deficiency?

Nutritional deficiency is a condition where the body lacks some essential micro and macro nutrients necessary for the growth and repair of the body and to perform some essential bodily functions.

There are two different types of nutrients essential for the body:

Macro-nutrients (nutrients that are required in greater amounts)

  • Carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, and fats are examples of macro-nutrients.
  • They provide energy to the body, hence needed in large quantities.
  • Nutrient deficiency in children may lead to health problems such as Kwashiorkor, Marasmus, etc.
  • Overconsumption of macro-nutrients may result in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, etc.
  • Macro-nutrients are found abundantly in cereals, fish, legumes, meat, nuts, oilseeds, potatoes, etc.

Micro-nutrients (nutrients that are required in lesser amounts)

  • Antioxidants, vitamins (A, D, E, K, and B complex), and minerals (Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Sodium, potassium, etc.) are known as micro-nutrients.
  • Micro-nutrients contribute to body growth and disease prevention.
  •  Deficiency results in health conditions such as Anemia, Goiter, Scurvy, etc.
  • Overconsumption of Vitamins leads to liver and nerve damage.
  • Micro-nutrients are found abundantly in fruits, vegetables, eggs, green leafy vegetables, etc.

Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiency in Children

Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for in your child for nutrition deficiency disease:   

  • Poor eating habits
  • Underweight
  • Tooth Decay
  • Poor physical growth
  • Constipation or changes in bowel movements
  • Weakness and low energy
  • Trouble in breathing
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleepiness or unable to sleep
  • Unusual food cravings
  • Lightheadedness
  • Severe hair loss
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Deterioration in vision
  • Bone pain

You can reach out to your doctor to address your concerns and find ways to overcome the gaps at an early stage.

Causes of Nutritional Deficiency in Children

1. Nutritional Deficiency in Mother: Nutritional deficiency in the mother herself can be easily passed on to the child at the time of birth and during pregnancy. A deficiency of different nutrients in the mother can affect the newborn’s overall health.

2. Poor eating habits of children: Picky eating or poor food choices such as treats, sugary drinks, and processed foods can lead to nutritional deficiencies in children.

3. Allergies and intolerances: Allergies to specific foods or food intolerances (like lactose or gluten) may result in a limited diet and nutrient deficiencies.

4. Diseases: Gastrointestinal issues that prevent the proper absorption of nutrients can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Children with medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis impact their nutritional status.

Which Nutrient Deficiencies Are Most Common in Children?

  • Iron Deficiency
  • Vitamin D Deficiency
  • Zinc Deficiency
  • Calcium Deficiency
  • Potassium
  • Fiber Deficiency

How Are Nutritional Deficiencies Diagnosed?

After a physical examination and based on the signs and symptoms, your child’s doctor may order certain blood tests to diagnose nutrient deficiencies.

Testing is done to evaluate the levels of specific vitamins and minerals in the body. It typically involves a blood test (complete blood count) or a series of blood tests (vitamin panel tests, electrolyte panel tests, mineral panel tests, etc.)

Speak to your doctor to determine if your child needs a blood test for vitamin deficiencies.

How to Manage and Treat Nutrient Deficiencies in Children?

Dietary and lifestyle changes 

Mild nutritional deficiencies can be treated at home by making simple changes to the children’s diet (adding more fruits and vegetables) and their eating habits (avoiding junk food).

Taking a supplement

A supplement may prevent a nutrient deficiency from becoming a nutritional disease.

Medical Care

Severe deficiencies may require hospitalization and involve parenteral nutrition (introduction of nutrients intravenously) and other medical management.

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop nutritional deficiencies from turning into chronic diseases and avoid associated complications.

What Are the Complications Associated with Nutritional Deficiencies in Children?

Diseases linked to nutritional deficiencies in children include 

  • Developmental defects (physical and cognitive developmental delays)
  • Increased risk of infectious diseases 
  • Behavior problems
  • Increased risk of poor health in adulthood

Nutrient deficiencies in childhood may lead to chronic long-term health problems. These chronic health issues may include 

  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Obesity
  • Rickets
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer 
  • Stroke
  • Osteoporosis

How To Prevent Nutritional Deficiencies in Children?

  • Choose a variety of foods for your kids. An ideal meal should include proteins, grains, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Fill half of your child’s plate with vegetables and fruits.
  • Children need 2-3 cups of milk or milk alternatives to meet calcium needs.
  • Reduce the number of treats offered to children and provide healthy alternatives to snacks.
  • Avoid buying or offering sugary drinks.
  • Involve your child in planning meals, purchasing food, and preparing – these improve your child’s understanding of healthy eating and food choices.

A nutrient-rich diet is important for children’s healthy growth and development and for preventing long-term or chronic illnesses.