Importance of nutrition in early child development

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By MONDAY SOLOMON
INTRODUCTION
Experts said that nutrition plays a very important role in brain development during the early years of a child. Nutrition in Early Childhood Development (ECD) especially within the first five years of a child‘s life enables him or her to grow well, live healthy, and also realize their full development potentials in life.
They warn that inadequate nutrition has negative implications for early childhood development, and urged mothers to provide exclusive breast feeding, and adequate nutrition, that is a diet that meets the nutrients needs for optimal growth and development, as well as stimulation for their children.
Nutrition is fundamental for good health and development during the early years of life. If children do not eat the right amounts of macronutrients like protein, fat, and carbohydrates and micronutrients like vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc, they may become ill, have delayed mental and motor development that can have enduring adverse effects beyond childhood, or die.
Optimal nutrition and correction of nutritional deficiencies during the early years are of particular significance as beyond 2 years of age, reversal may become very difficult.
The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding was developed in 2003 by WHO and UNICEF to improve the development, health, and survival of children through optimum feeding practices. In 2014, WHO launched a Commission on Ending of Childhood Obesity (ECHO) to combat the growing problem of obesity among children.
Nutrition may not be on the list of your child’s favorite things but it is crucial to the process of early childhood development. Healthy eating in a child’s early years can increase their cognitive development and ability to learn for years to come.
Nutrition and Child’s Growth
Healthy food choices have a strong impact on a child’s growth. Discuss with your child’s doctor regularly to review the child’s weight and height. The doctor plots your child’s weight and height on a growth chart. This chart shows the relationship between your child’s height and weight, the curve of the chart is extremely important and monitors if the child’s weight and height are growing at the same rate. Your child’s growth can tell you about their nutritional needs. Each one of your child’s meals should include a fruit, a vegetable, grains, a source of protein and dairy.
Good nutrition is not just about strong bodies. It is equally important for strong minds. Certainly lack of nutritious food can lead to disease and impede a child’s growth. But conditions linked to malnutrition can also cause cognitive delays that affect a child’s ability to learn and even earn a living later in life.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a book ‘Early Moments Matter for Every Child,’Health issues related to nutrition can also do lifelong harm. For example diarrhea can harm fitness, growth and cognitive development, and as a result impede later school performance.
Also according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Early Child Development (ECD) encompasses physical, socio emotional, cognitive and motor developments between 0-8 years of age. The early child period is considered to be the most important developmental phase throughout the lifespan. The early years are critical, because this is the period in life when the brain develops most rapidly and has a high capacity for change, and the foundation is laid for health and well being throughout life. Healthy Early Child Development (ECD) strongly influences well-being, obesity/stunting, mental health, heart disease, competence in literacy and numeracy, criminality, and economic participation throughout life.
Proper nutrition is crucial for everybody, but it is especially important for children because it is directly linked to their overall growth and development.The right nutrition in the right amount leads to a healthier life as they grow.
Children who follow a regular diet of healthy fats and high-fiber foods really enhance their chances of avoiding chronic illnesses—even if the illness tends to be genetic within their families.
Proper Nutrition, Better Quality of Life  
Moreover, children will enjoy a better quality of life if appropriate nutrition habits are ingrained in them, enabling them to take part in more activities with greater delight.
People with high levels of nutrition even report that they appreciate improved feelings of health and prosperity. As another major benefit, kids are able to ward off colds with enhanced effectiveness when they take in appropriate nutrition.
Unfortunately, the foods and snacks that taste the best are usually the worst for our bodies, and kids are understandably more likely to pick junk food rather than fruits or vegetables.
Nigeria has an estimated 11 million malnourished children if not addressed could portend a bleak future for the country.
According to UNICEF Education Specialist Swadchet Sankey, early brain stimulation is the foundation of learning and that achieving Early Child Development interventions, early in life set a trajectory for good health and long life, lower cardiovascular, non-communicable diseases and well-being.
With Early Childhood Development, not only do children survive, they thrive. Early nutrition programmes can raise adult wages by 5-50%. Children who escape stunting are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults. Reductions in stunting can increase Gross Domestic Product by 4-11% in Asia and Africa.
Nigeria is amongst the top 10 countries contributing to 250 million children under five at risk of not reaching their potential because their development has been stunted by stress, lack of early stimulation and poor nutrition.
Benefits of Good Nutrition for Children
The advantages of good nutrition for children are endless, but below are the benefits identified by analysts:
Breastfeeding by moms following nutritious diets leads to fewer serious cases among their kids of disease and illness—including diarrhea, ear infections, and bacterial meningitis.
Proper nutrition for children provides sufficient iron for the body, which is also considered a fundamental element of brain tissue.
Under nutrition has been shown to diminish children’s activity levels, social connections, interest, and cognitive functioning.
Nutrition Education Programs
Poor nutrition in early childhood can adversely affect children’s physical and emotional development, both in the short and long term, ultimatelylimiting adult achievement and wage-earning ability.
Child development and nutrition programs similar to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Child and Adult Care Food Program are two governmental food initiatives aimed at guaranteeing infants and older children access to nutritious food.
In conclusion it really that important for children to be consuming all of the above nutrients though the short answer is yes. The benefits of good nutrition to health are endless, but the following few conclusions made by researchers serve to prove my point. Firstly, breastfeeding by mothers following nutritious diets leads to fewer and less severe cases among their children of illnesses including diarrhea, ear infection and bacterial meningitis. This is because better-nourished children have an enhanced natural ability to fight infection. Secondly, since iron is a vital component of brain tissue, iron deficiency makes nerve impulses move slower and may cause permanent damage to a child’s brain, especially in the first two years of his/her life; iron deficiency during this time is linked to behaviour changes and delayed psychomotor development. However, too much iron also presents problems. Thirdly, under-nutrition has been proven to decrease a child’s activity levels, social interactions, curiosity and cognitive functioning. Although parents everywhere probably harbor the wish that their child wasn’t quite so hyperactively jumping on their bed at 6am, good nutrition remains a must.
Monday Solomon is a Mass Communications student of University of Maiduguri and can be reached at: mondaysolomon062@gmail.com

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