Improving Nutrition in Children
There is a global crisis amid the world we know now. This crisis is seen every day around the world, and specifically concerning children. It is the way we teach, practice, and model nutrition to children. Nutrition itself plays a big role in the world we live in today. If done wrong, bad nutrition ultimately leads to a domino effect of further issues. Our children are the future and a change in our health globally starts with them. Education also plays a big role in the health of children. However, without the health and brain function optimally working, opportunities for education are limited. From there, there is a snowball effect that occurs, and I believe it starts with poor health choices and practices and ends in far greater poor health choices and practices. Educating children effectively about nutrition from a young age can ultimately improve health around the world.
The reason I am choosing improving nutrition in children, is not only because I see the links between health issues, but I also am very passionate about nutrition being a life changing variable in people’s lives. It is not just people around the world struggling, but people everywhere in the United States also struggling from health issues as a result of poor nutrition practices. Even though the most pressing nutritional concerns differ between developing countries and developed countries, they still pose just as bad of threat. One example of this here in the United States, is the astronomical numbers that show heart disease is the leading cause of death to which we can tie to the obesity epidemic. Whether it is undernutrition that can cause developmental disparities in kids, or childhood obesity that has led to numerous other problems (i.e. diabetes, organ failure etc.), nutrition will always be a forefront to health around the world.
To prepare this paper, I began to research the link between nutrition versus the health of a society. There were so many profound sub topics to choose from that I decided to narrow down my search. One of the reappearing themes seemed to be the importance and implementation of education. Everyone could benefit from furthering their education on nutrition, but the article “Malnutrition and Poor Academic Performance: Critical Contributions” written by Santra Sawaya, reinforced my hypothesis that when children receive poor nutrition, they are unable to perform well in school. This impacts how they will learn and teach further into adolescence and adulthood. Therefore, for an improvement to be made, children must first be properly fueled for learning for the education cycle to even start. To find sources for my research I began looking at the different benefits of having proper nutrition throughout your life. Upon researching, I came across new information as well as some connections between nutrition and quality of life on a larger global scale.
Nutrition is one of the top concerns pertaining to global health. In Leith Greenslade’s article, “Poor Nutrition is a Global Problem”, he states that “…nutrition is on par with climate change as one of the highest-stake global development challenge” (Commentary: Poor Nutrition is a Global Problem). I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. Nutritional status can be a predictor of disease, create cycles of poverty, and influence quality of education. With all the health issues afflicting the world, it is difficult to single out a single cause, but if you look at the basic root of each epidemic you will find the common theme of malnutrition humbly impeding progress at every turn.
In order for the future generations to be successful, it is imperative to start from the foundation and build from there. Improper nutrition leads to stunted growth, disease, and cognitive impairment. Decrease in immune function and overall health plague children who are unable to receive the proper macro/micronutrients during development. Children who are affected live vulnerable to disease and decrease their chances of becoming an asset socially and economically.
The problem of disease is often one of the most talked about global health issues. The health of a child is a major indicator of their outlook of health and even a predictor of their productivity within a society. It is estimated that 32% or more of global disease could be wiped out by increasing appropriate nutrition practices (Katona, Katona-Apte 1582). Malnutrition has inextricably been linked to immunodeficiency in children. More than half of child deaths are caused by the top 5 diseases in children <5 years of age. These diseases include: pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, and AIDs (Katona, Katona-Apte 1582). Often, childhood illness causes reoccurring health issues that can ultimately result in permanent damage to the growth and development in a child (e.g. see fig. 1). During the ages 1-5, many of a child’s fundamental learning and growth stages set a foundation for their future. If a child is not able to develop due to disease, this child has a decreased chance to flourish as an adult within the community. These adults often pass on their poor nutrition and susceptibility to disease on to their children. Therefore, the lack of nutrition starting with this child has caused a cycle of poor health and disease that will be projected onto future generations.
We are all familiar with the chicken before the egg theory, but what about nutrition before poverty? Poverty and nutrition are synergistic components. The cycle between the two is never ending unless there is an intervention. As previously established, poor nutrition practices lead to disease and compromised development. Long-term illnesses and lack of development can ultimately lead to decrease in productivity in society. Many children are unable to attend school regularly as well as drop out due to illness, stunted growth and cognitive impairment. It is estimated that level of education can increase economic growth by a staggering 25% (Sridhar 3). An increase in the economy can create more jobs, better access to healthcare, quality food and water as well as the opportunity to invest within the community. Proper nutrition practices can not only increase jobs and productivity in workers, but it also increases life expectancy which in turn creates more years to give back to the economy. To combat this vicious cycle, again, we must go back to where it started. If a child is not given the proper nutrition to grow, they are unable to contribute to the economy to their full capacity.
The solution to the malnutrition of children globally is a complex system of issues that all come with their own dilemmas. Nutrition has not always been sought after as a high priority, therefore the philosophies and policies promising progress have not yet been fully developed.
The most fundamental dilemma is creating a universal idea of proper nutrition. The definition of nutrition has been redefined by multiple organizations such as the World Bank, Committee on Food Security, and The International Food Policy Institute. Only to be shut down and the original definition created by the World Food Summit. Food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. remains (Fanzo). While seemingly true, this definition is not specific to a group or individual and could be interpreted in many ways. The other issue with simply defining nutrition, is it overlooks the factor of application. Malnutrition is a pandemic around the world and not all of these countries have access to the same resources or have the same cultural beliefs. It is tough to create a guideline that can effectively be used universally when different countries have different deficiencies. For example, UNICEF has identified countries such as sub-Sarahan Africa as well as Mid and West Africa to be in dire need of Vitamin A supplementation for children (Vitamin A Deficiency, e.g. see fig 2). Whereas other countries are not even on the radar. Who decides the custom nutritional needs of each country and how can we ethically execute it?
The next factor that comes into consideration at this point is how to approach change so the people who are in more dire need of nutrition are able to get it. The groups that are considered the most vulnerable, are the ones who require more specific nutrient requirements in order to maintain their health. Women, children, and young girls sit at the top of this list (Fanzo). However, it is difficult to intervene in a child’s life due to cultural differences, rights, and hierarchy of socio-economic status. Involving government intervention can be a slippery slope in regard to children. Even if the consensus is intervention is to better the child’s life, the parent or even the community have rights to their own opinion. Careful consideration must be taken when allocating the responsibility of a child’s nutritional status to the proper groups or individual within ethical standards.
In the pursuit for a better world through solving nutrition as a globally devastating health issue, each action has a reaction and each problem is part of an interconnected cycle (e.g. see fig. 3). For each obstacle to be overcome we must look at the whole system together, for which we then must designate a starting point. We all begin as children, and the only way to grow into key components in the fight to end disease, poverty, and lack of education is to nurture the beginning of our life cycle. To achieve improved nutritional status around the world, we must focus our efforts on young children. Giving them the opportunity to grow and prosper will give them the opportunity to change the current failing cycle and expand on the progress of nutritional efforts. A domino effect can be reached improving school attendance, decrease in the disease epidemic, and ultimately boost the economy achieving new standards all over the world.
Fig. 1 Cycle of malnutrition and lifelong disease (Katona, Katona Apte).
Fig. 2. Vitamin A Deficiency needs around the world (UNICEF).
Fig. 3. Cycle of Nutrition and it’s effected components (Fanzo)
- Borg, Brende. “Why Education Is the Key to Development.” World Economic Forum, 7 July 2105, www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/why-education-is-the-key-to-development/.
- Cleveland, Hannah. “How Education Prevents Poverty.” The Borgen Project, 10 Jan. 2018, borgenproject.org/education-prevents-poverty/.
- Fanzo, Jessica. “Ethical Issues for Human Nutrition in the Context of Global Food Security and Sustainable Development.” Global Food Security, Elsevier, 2 Dec. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211912415300158.
- Greenslade, Leith. “Commentary: Poor Nutrition Is a Global Problem.” Health Envoy RSS, Office on the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for Health, 22 Dec. 2014, www.healthenvoy.org/commentary-poor-nutrition-is-a-global-problem/.
- Katona, Peter, and Judith Katona-Apt. “Interaction between Nutrition and Infection | Clinical Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 15 May 2008, academic.oup.com/cid/article/46/10/1582/294025.
- “Key Facts Poverty and Poor Health.” Health Poverty Action, 2017, www.healthpovertyaction.org/info-and-resources/the-cycle-of-poverty-and-poor-health/key-facts/.
- Sayawa, Sandra Maria. “Malnutrition and Poor Academic Performance: Critical Contributions.” Estudos Avançados, Instituto De Estudos Avançados Da Universidade De São Paulo, Dec. 2006, www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0103-40142006000300015&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en.
- Unicef. “Vitamin A Deficiency.” UNICEF DATA, Apr. 2018, data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/vitamin-a-deficiency/.