False dietary beliefs major cause of malnutrition

Around 30% of Indian children aged under five are underweight, according to the Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC), which was carried out in 2013 and 2014 by the UN and the Indian government. The report published recently brings that under nutrition remains a challenge in India.

Misconceptions are a prominent cause for concern. For instance, newborns are not breast-fed immediately after birth and colostrum, which helps build the baby’s immunity, is discarded in many cases.

Dr Pramod Jog, President of Indian Academy of Paediatrics and Professor of Paediatrics at D Y Patil Medical College, Pune, said: “The major nutritional problems among Indian children are lack of proteins, Vitamin A deficiency, iron deficiency and iodine deficiency disorders.  Tribal children are prone to multiple deficiencies. Protein deficiency is the most widely prevalent form of malnutrition among children. Severe protein deficiency associated with infection contributes to high child mortality.”

Explaining the types of malnutrition, Dr Jog said: “Malnutrition is measured in terms of underweight (low weight for age), stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height). Protein deficiency could also affect the ongoing development of higher cognitive processes during childhood.”

Dr Shreekant Chorghade, noted paediatrian who had authored several books on child care and nutrition, said: “Malnutrition doesn’t affect only height. It results in small stature. Thin bones, poor musculature, thin or negligible layer of fat and weight much below desired level. Undernourished boys and girls do not perform as well in school as compared to their well-nourished peers. Being stunted means that these children are not fulfilling their potential and their brain and immune systems are compromised, often for their entire life. Such children may grow up as underperforming adults. Widespread child undernutrition greatly impedes our country’s socio-economic development.”

Pointing to the fact that majority of children are not breast-fed immediately after birth, Dr Chorghade highlighted: “Timely initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life and timely introduction of complementary foods at six months are vital to curb malnutrition. Inappropriate feeding practices are closely related to cultures and beliefs. Socio-cultural factors play an important role, it affects the attitude of the care giver in feeding and care practices.”

Stating that women in urban slums work in unorganised sectors and are not protected by labour laws regarding maternity or sick leave and hours of work, Dr Jog said: “Women working in organised sectors have a propensity to erode breastfeeding and child-rearing practices.”

Explaining how improper use of commercial baby foods for infant feeding hinders baby’s growth, Dr Jog said: “When outside milk is given, most mothers or caretakers add plain water to the milk. Dilution of milk is done in many cases. Those giving their infants formula milk also dilute it regularly. It is a wrong belief that by diluting milk, it gets digested.”

Highlighting the importance of value addition to the milk, Dr Chorghade stressed that “the food value of mile can be enriched nutritionally by adding banana, egg or ‘sattu’ or making porridge. Foods introduced lack the consistency, energy density and are fed in inadequate amounts and in unhygienic ways. The child should be put on weaning supplemented by complementary feed within one and half years”.

Warning about the wrong eating habits among children coming from economically rich families, Dr Chorghade said: “These children consume diet which has more carbohydrates and fats and lacks sufficient amount of proteins and vitamins, which also leads to malnutrition.”