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UNICEF Uzbekistan
© UNICEF Uzbekistan

More than one third of all child deaths every year around the world are attributed to malnutrition, specifically under-nutrition, which weakens the body’s resistance to illness. If a woman is malnourished during pregnancy or if her child is malnourished during the first two years of life, the child’s physical and mental growth and development will be slowed. This cannot be corrected when the child is older – it will affect the child for the rest of his or her life.

Malnutrition develops when the body does not get the proper amount of energy (calories), proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients required to keep the organs and tissues healthy and functioning well. A child or adult can be malnourished by being undernourished or over-nourished.

In most parts of the world malnutrition occurs when people are under-nourished. Primary reasons for under-nourishment, especially of children and women, are poverty, lack of food, repeated illnesses, inappropriate feeding practices, lack of care and poor hygiene.

Over-nutrition is when a person is overweight or obese. It can cause diabetes in childhood and cardiovascular disease and other diseases in adulthood. Sometimes children eat large quantities of foods that are high in energy but not rich in other necessary nutrients, such as sugary drinks or fried, starchy foods. In such cases, improving the quality of the child’s diet is crucial along with increasing his or her level of physical activity.

Children with chronic diseases, such as HIV, are even more susceptible to malnutrition. Their bodies have a harder time absorbing vitamins, iron and other nutrients. Children with disabilities may need extra attention to make sure they get the nutrition they need.

All girls and boys have the right to a caring and protective environment, with mothers, fathers or other caregivers making sure they are well nourished with a healthy diet.

Key facts each family should know about nutrition:

  • A young child should grow and gain weight rapidly. Fr om birth to age two, children should be weighed regularly to assess growth. If regular weighing shows that the child is not gaining weight, or the parents or other caregivers see the child is not growing, something is wrong. The child needs to be seen by a trained health worker;
  • Breastmilk alone is the only food and drink an infant needs in the first six months of life. After six months, a baby needs a variety of other foods in addition to breastmilk to ensure healthy growth and development;
  • From the age of six to eight months a child needs to eat two to three times per day and three to four times per day starting at nine months – in addition to breastfeeding. Depending on the child’s appetite, one or two nutritious snacks, such as fruit or bread with nut paste, may be needed between meals. The baby should be fed small amounts of food that steadily increase in variety and quantity as he or she grows;
  • Feeding times are periods of learning, love and interaction, which promote physical, social and emotional growth and development. The parent or other caregiver should talk to children during feeding, and treat and feed girls and boys equally and patiently;
  • Children need vitamin A to help resist illness, protect their eyesight and reduce the risk of death. Vitamin A can be found in many fruits and vegetables, red palm oil, eggs, dairy products, liver, fish, meat, fortified foods and breastmilk. In areas wh ere vitamin A deficiency is common, high-dose vitamin A supplements can also be given every four to six months to children aged six months to five years;
  • Children need iron-rich foods to protect their physical and mental abilities and to prevent anaemia. The best sources of iron are animal sources, such as liver, lean meats and fish. Other good sources are iron-fortified foods and iron supplements;
  • Iodine in a pregnant woman’s and young child’s diet is especially critical for the development of the child’s brain. It is essential to help prevent learning disabilities and delayed development. Using iodised salt instead of ordinary salt provides pregnant women and their children with as much iodine as they need;
  • As the child’s intake of foods and drinks increases, the risk of diarrhoea substantially increases. Contamination of foods with germs is a major cause of diarrhoea and other illnesses that cause children to lose nutrients and energy needed for growth and development. Good hygiene, safe water and proper handling, preparation and storing of foods are crucial to prevent illnesses;
  • During an illness, children need additional fluids and encouragement to eat regular meals, and breastfeeding infants need to breastfeed more often. After an illness, children need to be offered more food than usual to replenish the energy and nourishment lost due to the illness.

Source: Facts for Life, 2010

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