Proper nutrition is the foundation for living the best life possible. It’s especially important to help babies and children grow and reach their full potential. Approximately 60% of adult height is achieved by age 5, making nutrition essential in the early stages of life. Undernutrition in the first five years may challenge a child’s development and limit future potential in terms of academic success, physical development and overall health.
The fight against malnutrition has been ongoing – the World Health Organization has global targets to reduce the number of children under 5 who are stunted by 40% and reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5% by 2025. Yet, global malnutrition rates remain too high.
Around the world, 149 million children under 5 are stunted while 45 million are wasted. Contributors to pediatric undernutrition include not getting enough food or the right kinds of food, picky eating habits, feeding difficulties or underlying chronic diseases. Yet, if given a nurturing environment, free from illness, all children are born with the ability to reach their full growth potential, regardless of their geographic location or culture.
“Early identification of malnutrition and intervening quickly for children found to be at risk could have a profound impact on the global fight against malnutrition,” says Karyn Wulf, MD, MPH, pediatric medical director at Abbott. “This is why Abbott makes it a priority to provide tools and information to healthcare professionals, caregivers and parents so they can spot the signs of malnutrition and take action.”
Keeping A Close Eye on Children’s Growth
Healthcare professionals can identify children at risk of malnutrition by evaluating their nutritional intake and assessing their growth through anthropometric (e.g., height, weight, and mid-uppper arm circumference) biochemical (e.g., electrolyte levels or inflammatory markers) and clinical observations (e.g., vital signs or physical exam).
“There are many tools available to help clinicians determine which children need to be further assessed for malnutrition risk,” says Wulf. “The important thing is to raise awareness that all children should be assessed for risk factors and monitored for their growth on an on-going basis.”
Early identification of malnutrition and intervening quickly for children found to be at risk could have a profound impact on the global fight against malnutrition.
Karyn Wulf, MD, MPH, pediatric medical director at Abbott
The Power of Nutrition Intervention on Growth
When it comes to malnutrition, prompt nutrition intervention can help promote catch-up growth. It’s especially important to ensure optimal nutrition during periods of rapid growth and development, such as infancy and young childhood adolescence.
To help achieve catch-up growth, healthcare professionals will often recommend increasing the child’s food intake and diet diversity if possible, and supplementing their diet with individual micronutrients or oral nutritional supplements (ONS). ONS promotes rapid catch-up growth and can also help children reach optimal proportional growth. Research has shown that short stature children at nutritional risk had catchup growth within 8 weeks when given nutritional counseling and daily use of oral nutritional supplements.
“Good nutrition sets the foundation for healthy growth,” says Wulf. “Protein, vitamins and minerals help supply the raw materials growing bodies need to build cells, tissues, muscles and bones, or play a key role in many of the body’s processes including immunity.”
Parents should work with healthcare professionals – including registered dietitians/nutritionists – to ensure their children are getting important growth nutrients like protein, vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Oral nutritional supplements – like Abbott’s PediaSure – can also help offer complete and balance nutrition, providing all macro- and micronutrients needed to achieve normal growth and development.
 Huynh DT, et al. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015;28:623-635.
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