Every child deserves to reach their full potential, growing healthy to live a full life. Yet 1 in 4 Vietnamese children has stunted growth as a result of under-nutrition, which may also affect their long-term development. Children aged 1-5 above -2SD (normal growth rate range) with growth challenges, may be at risk and need nutritional intervention to lead a full and healthy life.
Growth challenges should not be underestimated and tackled early in children’ life
Dr. Russell James Merritt stressed children with growth challenges are at risk of under-nutrition affecting long-term healthy growth and need nutritional intervention to lead a full and healthy life.
At the symposium, “For Children’s Healthy Growth – Scientific Solutions For Growth Challenges” hosted by the Vietnam Pediatric Association and Abbott last week, professor Nguyen Cong Khanh, President of Vietnam Pediatric Association revealed: “Growth challenges include fluctuating or unstable weight and height gain, low immunity, extended sick or hospitalized days. Growth challenges have both short and long-term impact on healthy growth of children, which requires parents to have effective early intervention methods.”
Explaining the causes of growth challenges, Nguyen Cong Khanh believed that inappropriate feeding practices leading to an inadequate diet, low socio-economic status and an unhealthy household environment are the main factors. Insufficient nutrients within the daily diet might lead to under-nutrition, one of the main causes of stunting and malnutrition.
Malnutrition due to poor diet quality is a common factor and it puts the developing brain at risk during the first years of life of the child. Undernourished kids not only affects physical growth (kids are shorter when they grow up) but also affects immunity, school performance, productivity, wages, memorizing ability. Under-nutrition might lead to risks associated with chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease.
When is a right time for nutritional supplementations for children at risk?
When parents see the children not growing well, it is critical for parents to identify under-nutrition and malnutrition and intervene. Chronic poor growth can result in higher risk of infection, impaired lifelong health and productivity.
There are four integral requirements for achieving healthy linear growth (length/height for age): complete and balance nutrition including essential micronutrients, heath gut, immune status, and health and infection status. At the symposium, the experts agreed that managing nutritional intake including essential micronutrients through intervention is critical to help at-risk children get back on healthy growth.
Russell James Merritt, MD, PhD, Director of Nutrition Support and Intestinal Rehabilitation, Children Hospital of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, shared: “In my experience helping families get their children back on track to healthy growth, I’ve found that a combination of dietary counselling and continued oral nutritional supplementation (ONS) is the most effective. Children are able to better absorb calories and micronutrients, catch-up and maintain long-term healthy growth, even after dietary counseling is stopped.”
ONS provides complete and balance nutrition that include many nutrients that play a role in daily maintenance of cognitive activity and thus brain development, which are usually missed in daily meals.
Merritt also advised it is not the individual nutrients that are important to consider, but the collective impact of a high-quality diet and the need to provide it on a daily basis. This is crucial during the formative years from conception to age 3 when brain architecture is at risk.
A 2013 study found that after 48 weeks of twice-daily ONS, such as PediaSure, children were able to get complete, balanced nutrition to meet at least 50 percent of the nutrients required for growth and immune health. The study also found that children had fewer sick days, larger appetite and were more active after 60 days (equivalent to nine weeks) using ONS.
Mary Jean Villa-Real Guno – MD, FPPS, FPSPGHAN, MBA, Consultant Pediatric Gastroenterology: The Medical City, Manila, Philippines, concluded: “Complete and balanced nutrition is one of the key drivers for optimal growth in children. When detecting kids with growth challenges, parents should take early nutritional intervention so that their kids can grow healthily.”
With increased energy and micronutrients, most children will improve their growth. As they do, appetite may children can reach ideal weight for height and avoid stunting, which is often seen with chronic under-nutrition. Gradually, after catch-up growth is achieved, supplementation can be withdrawn with ongoing growth monitoring.