Internationally adopted children are at risk for malnutrition for many reasons. Some of the contributing factors are prenatal: prenatal health of the birth mother, prenatal diet, and prenatal infections, for example. Other contributing factors occur while the child is institutionalized (even if in a foster home). Institutionalized children are rarely breast fed and may not even receive formula. If they do receive formula, it may be a suboptimal brand or it may be mixed incorrectly. Often, children are weaned too early, given non-fortified solid foods instead. When children do begin eating solid foods, they may receive insufficient amounts or food that is low in the micronutrients essential for growth and development. Additionally, children may not spend enough time in the sun, which can lead to a vitamin D deficiency and/or rickets.
Interestingly, studies show that even if institutionalized children receive adequate nutrition they do not grow as well as would be expected. Why is this? This is where the car analogy comes in. Think of a car. A car needs sufficient fuel to go. But it takes more than fuel. The car also must have an engine and a driver to make that engine go. Just as a car needs fuel, children need food. But the food alone is not enough. Children also need healthy bodies (the engine) and a caregiver (the driver) who provides love, attention, and care. When a caregiver provides sufficient love, attention, and care, children produce growth hormone that is necessary for proper growth.
When children are adopted, they begin to receive higher quality fuel (nutritious food). Due to the love and attention from their new “drivers,” they produce higher levels of growth hormone and their engines (bodies) begin to develop. Many children have big growth spurts! As important as this growth is, it also leaves children at risk for further malnutrition. Some children just don’t have the micronutrient stores to support rapid growth. Their stores may become depleted. Micronutrients that should be monitored closely, especially 6-12 months post-adoption, are iron, zinc, and Vitamin D.
For more nutrition tips specifically for adopted children, visit www.AdoptionNutrition.org.