Children can be at risk for malnutrition for many different reasons. Some children can be especially vulnerable to malnutrition, such as infants and children with disabilities who may have different needs or require additional support with feeding and mealtimes.
Malnourishment can result in long-term impacts on growth and development, so early identification is important! Some physical symptoms of malnutrition include the following:
Stunting When children are too short for their age, this can be an indicator of chronic malnutrition.
Wasting When children are underweight for their height, this is often considered an indicator of acute malnutrition.
Underweight This indicates that children are underweight for their age.
Overweight This indicates that children are heavier than they should be for their age.
Micronutrient deficiencies Key micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, iron and others can be due to a number of influences including dietary intake, environmental factors, parasites or even a child’s disability.
Often, growth charts are used to track and monitor children’s growth in addition to regular health screenings. Growth charts allow you to track children’s progress over time in relation to normal growth patterns. If a child falls outside of these growth patterns, it may indicate that some follow-up is needed to support healthy and full development.
Here are two sets of growth charts from the World Health Organization (WHO):
- WHO Child Growth Standards growth charts for children up to 5 years old
- WHO Growth Reference Data growth charts for children 5 to 19 years old
For the most accurate assessment of your child’s growth and development, consult your pediatrician.
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Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
Having low levels or a deficiency of certain micronutrients at a young age can negatively impact a child’s developmental potential.
It is important to recognize that deficiency and low levels of some micronutrients can cause more than just what the eye can see. A lack of certain vitamins or minerals can contribute to behavioral challenges, anxiety and depression. The best ways to avoid such deficiencies are to optimize your child’s diet by including a variety of foods from different food groups and consulting your child’s dietitian or pediatrician at regular checkups.
Here are just a few examples of some nutrient deficiencies.
|Micronutrient||Deficiency Symptoms||Potential Causes of Deficiency|
|Vitamin A||Weakened resistance to infection|
Vision problems, including night blindness
Eye inflammation or dry eyes
Dry skin and hair
|Inadequate dietary intake|
|Vitamin D and Calcium||Rickets |
Skeletal deformity (bowed legs)
Slow eruption of teeth
Malformed or decay-prone teeth
Poor linear growth (length/height)
|Inadequate dietary intake|
Prolonged lack of exposure to direct sunlight
Decreased resistance to infection
Inability to pay attention
Fatigue and weakness
Lack of appetite
|Low iron stores at birth|
Low dietary intake of iron
High intake of foods that impair iron absorption
Blood loss due to parasitic infections and inflammation
|Iodine||Hypothyroidism (slow activity of the thyroid)|
Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid)
Cognitive and physical delays, especially in infants
|Low intake by birth mother during pregnancy|
Inadequate dietary intake
Slow wound healing
|Low intake of animal protein|
High intake of fiber and phytates
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