New Delhi: According to experts, micronutrients deficiencies are a major risk factor of illness in infants. Every day, over 6,000 children die in India under the age of five and more than half of these deaths are caused by micronutrient malnutrition-primarily due to lack of Vitamin A, iron, iodine, zinc and folic acid .This micronutrient deficit among infants needs to be managed.
Micronutrients deficiency is essentially a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals that are required by the body. Micronutrients include iron, zinc, iodine, folate and vitamin A. A deficiency in these can have long term negative effects on an infant's growth and development.
One of the ideal ways to prevent this deficiency is to adopt food based strategies which make sure that the infant is consuming a micronutrients rich diet. Micronutrient deficiencies affect cognitive development and physical performance of infants. It also leads to an increased likelihood of a detrimental effect on the health and productivity in adulthood.
The deficiency of specific micronutrients can result in various abnormalities. Lack of zinc and Vitamin A in infants causes slow and poor growth, reduced immuno-competence and increased susceptibility to infectious disease. Iron deficiency is associated with irreversible neurological impairment and reduced functionality of the immune system. Furthermore, decreased levels of iodine in infants leads to weakened intellectual development and physical growth.
The intake of micronutrients in daily diet is far from satisfactory and largely less than 50% RDA is consumed by over 70% of the Indian population. Micronutrient deficiencies are also called 'hidden hunger' as they develop over a long period and there are hardly any early sign of its impact.
Although the requirements of protein and fats are met, micronutrients are often missing from the daily diet. "To prevent the deficiency of micronutrients, some steps that can be adopted are- improved dietary intake which include micronutrient rich foods, food supplementation and fortification," recommends Dr Manjari Chandra, Senior Consultant Nutritionist at Max Multi Speciality Centre. Adding, " These foods based strategies are the most sustainable approaches and help in the prevention of general malnutrition."
Though required in tiny amounts, micronutrients are the foundation for building healthy brains, bones and bodies. The importance of proper nutrition that needs to be given to an infant in the first 1,000 days of life is well established.
Giving appropriate and balanced nutrition of both macro and micro nutrients during this period has proved to have significant effects on health throughout childhood, also having a positive impact in adulthood. Dr. Chandra further adds, "The diet given to infants is often incomplete. Having different kinds of nutrient-dense foods alongside breastfeeding is the best way for infants to get the required micronutrients."
Today, there is more emphasis on food based strategies to prevent micronutrient deficiency. There is a very urgent need to generate a greater awareness about micronutrient deficiency in order to prevent the impact that it has on the physical and mental health of an infant. The consequences of micronutrient deficiency are high mortality and morbidity rate among infants. Therefore, effective means to raise awareness and control it should be on priority.