‘The children of today will make the future of tomorrow’. Proper nutrition is fundamental to a child’s continued healthy growth, from birth through adulthood. Experts say, “Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies during the first six months”. In the first three years of infants’ life, correct feeding is particularly important due to its role in decreasing morbidity and mortality, reducing the risk of chronic disease and helping to promote regular mental and physical development.
Every infant and child has the right to get good nutrition under the convention on the Child’s Rights. But in many countries, less than a fourth of infants have access to the required dietary diversity and feeding frequency. Inappropriate feeding practices contribute to a third of all cases of child malnutrition.
This is compounded by the proliferation of processed foods like infant formula and products rich in salt, high sugars and trans fats. These causes are an increase in poor diets, obesity and a marked reduction in the number of mothers breastfeeding their babies. Breastfeeding has been of more critical importance to a child’s development, including increased IQ, school working performance and higher stamina in adult life. WHO continues to work with Member States and partners NGOs to promote proper infant and child nutrition, including breastfeeding information campaigns and efforts to prevent malnutrition.
Child malnutrition is a major public health issue worldwide. An estimated 144 million children under age 5 are stunted, 47 million are wasted, and 38.3 million are overweight or obese. In addition, around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition.
Some of the nutrients babies need to grow and stay healthy include:
Calcium: Helps build strong bones and teeth.
Fat: Creates energy, helps the brain develop, keeps skin and hair healthy, and protects against infections.
Folate: Helps cells divide.
Iron: Builds blood cells and helps the brain develop. Breastfed babies should receive iron supplements.
Protein & Carbohydrates: They provide energy and fuel growth.
Zinc: Helps the cells grow and repair themselves.
WHO Child Growth Standards are a diagnostic tool used to monitor and assess the nutritional status of infants and young children worldwide. By tracking children’s height and body weight, the standards detect children or populations not growing correctly or under- overweight and who may require specific medical or public health responses.
When Babies are born early (before 37 weeks) or at a low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces), they need special nutrition to help them catch up on growth. Breastfed babies may get a fortifier added to the milk, which contains:
- Extra calories
- Extra fat
Babies who can’t breastfeed will need a special formula for preterm babies. These formulas are higher in calories. However, they also contain extra protein, vitamins, and minerals.
A baby is about to go through an amazing growth spurt. In their first year, babies triple their birth weight.
One thing a baby doesn’t want to give during the first 12 months is whole cow’s milk. It doesn’t have enough iron, vitamin E, and essential fatty acids for your baby. Also, it contains too much protein, sodium, and potassium for your child’s body to absorb and can cause harm. So wait to introduce cow’s milk until your baby is 1 year old.
Also, the baby doesn’t need any soy milk or homemade formula. These substitutes may not have the balance of nutrition a baby needs right now.
WHO has standardised some charts for boys and girls separated, covering age birth to 5 years. They are used in doctors’ offices, clinics and other health facilities and by research institutions, child health advocacy organisations and ministries of health
In order to understand the nutritional status of adults and children, anthropometric data or body measurements, such as weight-for-age, length-for-age or weight-for-height, are taken and compared to a large population. Accurate anthropometric data are critical to helping policymakers, programme managers, and researchers understand issues such as stunting, malnutrition, and links between obesity and disease risk.