Malnutrition in children is a condition when a child does not get the nutritional intake that is in accordance with his needs. This condition should not be taken lightly because it can have an impact on the general health condition of the child and the process of growth and development.
The first 1000 days of a child’s life are a golden period for their growth and development. During this period, children need adequate nutritional intake to optimize their growth.
Malnutrition or also called nutritional imbalance occurs when children do not get adequate and balanced nutritional intake for a long time. This condition is divided into two types, namely malnutrition (undernutrition) and overnutrition (overnutrition).
Both need to be watched out for because they can cause various health problems in children, for example, children often get infections due to weak immunity, growth disorders, diabetes, and hypertension.
The condition of nutritional imbalance is also known to be the cause of death of 300,000 children under five every year in developing countries, including Indonesia.
Causes of Malnutrition in Children
Malnutrition in children generally occurs when children lack or even excess nutritional intake. There are several factors that can cause children to experience malnutrition, namely:
- Lack of parental knowledge about children’s nutritional needs
- Lack of access to sufficient and affordable food
- Social and economic factors, such as poverty, natural disasters, or war
- Poor environmental hygiene or sanitation
- Certain health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, celiac disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS
- Infections, such as diarrhea, TB, or pneumonia, that recur or recur frequently
- Birth defects, such as congenital heart disease
- Mental disorders, such as depression and eating disorders
- Iodine deficiency while the child is still in the womb (congenital hypothyroidism)
Not only the various things above, there are also other conditions that can make children more at risk of experiencing nutritional imbalances, for example the habit of choosing to eat or having difficulty eating (picky eating).
Impact Malnutrition in Children
In addition to the various health problems in children previously mentioned, nutritional imbalances in children can also trigger stunting or short stature.
According to the Indonesian Ministry of Health, stunting is a condition of failure to thrive in toddlers, including physical growth, body organs, and brains, due to long-term malnutrition so that their bodies are shorter than normal children their age and have delays in thinking.
If left untreated, the condition stunting experienced by children in the first 1000 days of life will be increasingly difficult to cure and increase the risk of children experiencing obesity and heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes when they grow up.
Based on data from the Indonesian Toddler Nutrition Status Survey (SSGBI) in 2021, the number of cases stunting in Indonesia reaches 24.4% and obesity is around 11% in children aged 5-12 years.
How to Overcome Nutritional Imbalance or Malnutrition in Children
Malnutrition in children can be overcome in various ways, including:
1. Exclusive breastfeeding
Exclusive breastfeeding has very important benefits to prevent and help overcome the problem of malnutrition in children. Several studies have revealed that children who are exclusively breastfed until the age of 6 months have a stronger immune system and better nutritional status.
This is because breast milk contains various nutrients and antibodies that play an important role in the health and development of children.
2. Meet the nutritional intake in a balanced amount
Meeting nutritional needs is the main step to prevent and treat nutritional imbalances in children. Nutritional intake also plays an important role in supporting the growth and development of children.
For children aged 6–24 months, the provision of additional food as a companion to breast milk or complementary foods is allowed.
Therefore, when the child is 6 months old and ready to get solid food, he can be given foods that contain a variety of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, fats, fiber, and minerals.
These various nutrients can be obtained from various types of nutritious foods, such as:
- Fish and meat
- Fruits and vegetables
- Milk and its dairy products, including cheese and yogurt
3. Giving supplements
Providing nutritional supplements, such as vitamin and iron supplements, can be an effort to prevent and treat nutritional imbalances in children.
Several types of supplements that can be given to children are supplements containing vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and certain minerals, such as folic acid and zinc.
However, before giving these nutritional supplements to your little one, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor first, yes. This is important to ensure that the dosage and type of supplement are suitable for the condition and needs of the little one.
4. Meet the needs of iodine
Pregnant women who are malnourished are known to be more at risk of giving birth to malnourished children as well. Therefore, during pregnancy, pregnant women need to have adequate nutritional intake in a balanced amount. One of the important nutritional intakes to fulfill is iodine.
Iodine is a mineral that is included in the micronutrients or types of nutrients that are needed only in small amounts. However, the benefits of iodine are very important for the health of the mother and fetus and the process of fetal growth and development.
Dishes enriched or supplemented with fortified iodine can improve the nutritional status of pregnant women. In addition, iodine also plays an important role in supporting the growth and development of children, especially in the first 1,000 days of life, as well as their metabolic processes.
If there is a lack of iodine, children are at risk for growth and development problems, such as short stature, have a low level of intelligence (IQ), and experience health problems, such as hypothyroidism and goiter.
5. Coping with certain medical conditions
In severe cases, malnutrition in children generally needs to be treated with nutritional therapy from a doctor. To meet the nutritional intake of children who are malnourished or children who have difficulty eating due to difficulty swallowing, doctors can provide nutritional intake through a tube that is attached from the nose to the stomach (NGT).
Through this tube, the doctor can provide milk, drinking water, or porridge to meet the child’s calorie, fluid, and nutritional needs. In addition, doctors can also provide nutritional intake through intravenous fluids (parenteral nutrition) if necessary.
To prevent malnutrition in children, parents should choose foods that are nutritious, easily available and affordable, easy to give, and contain iodine. These foods are also important to meet the daily nutritional intake of children.
That’s a variety of important information about the causes of nutritional imbalances in children and treatment steps. To ensure the nutritional status of children is normal, don’t forget to regularly weigh and measure the child’s height, OK?
If your little one shows signs or symptoms of malnutrition in your child, you can consult a doctor to check your little one’s condition. After that, the doctor can provide appropriate treatment according to the health problems experienced by the Little One.