The ABCs To A Child’s Healthy Growth And Development

[ Terry Saw ]

Just by having quality nutrition – although highly crucial for every growing child – is not enough to guarantee it is the most wholesome and healthy development plan around. Dietician Mohd Fatahudin Ishak from Tunku Azizah Hospital gives us a quick lowdown on the basic (but important) aspects to cover from day one to ensure a solid foundation for growth is in place.

A: Awareness And Attention From Parents And Caregivers At Home Are Extremely Important.

“Let’s start on the topic of nutritional deficiency. There are clinical signs and symptoms of poor nutrition that can be revealed during a physical examination. “However, these may only appear at a later stage in the development of a deficiency disease, and the absence of clinical signs should not be taken as an indication that a deficiency is not present. “Physical signs represent very general changes and may not be due to nutrient deficiencies alone. Other indications such as poor weight gain and low dietary intake are needed in order to reinforce suspicions, which must be closely monitored, and biochemical and hematological tests should be carried out to confirm the diagnosis. “Especially at home, it is useful to refer to the table below for a summary of the clinical signs of nutrient deficiency that children may manifest. If and when identified, parents should immediately seek professional advice for further investigations and treatment.”

Assessment Clinical signs Possible nutrient(s) deficit
Hair Thin, sparse Color change – ‘flag sign’ Easily plucked Protein and energy, zinc, copper
Skin Dry, flaky Rough, ‘sandpaper’ texture, bruising Essential fatty acids, B vitamins, Vitamin A, Vitamin C
Eyes Pale conjunctiva Xerosis Keratomalacia Iron, Vitamin A
Lips Angular stomatitis Cheilosis B vitamins  
Tongue Color changes B vitamins
Teeth Mottling of enamel   Fluorosis (excess fluoride)
Gums Spongy, bleeds easily Vitamin C
Face Thyroid enlargement Iodine
Nails Spoon-shaped, koilonychia Iron, zinc, copper
Bones Craniotabes Parietal and frontal bossing Epiphyseal enlargement Beading of ribs Vitamin D  

B: Back To Basics. Balance And Variety Are Important When It Comes To Introducing A Mix Of Nutrients Into Your Child’s Diet For Healthy Brain Development.

“Optimum brain functions and sight are dependent on an adequate intake of the omega‐3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) especially during fetal growth and early infancy. These nutrients are present in breastmilk and added to all infant formulas. That said,  whether their presence in food or supplements for older infants and children influences brain function, behavior or the risk of atopy remains controversial. “A weekly serve of oily fish (tuna, sardine, anchovies, mackerel, etc) will ensure an adequate intake of omega‐3. Walnuts and linseeds as well as rapeseed, walnut, linseed and soya oils are all good sources of the omega‐3 essential fatty acid, α‐linolenic acid. “Although current research has not shown that children with adequate dietary intake of omega‐3 fats will benefit from extra supplements, it says that having variety in children’s diet is essential to make sure certain nutrients that are not readily available in certain foods can be achieved. Moreover, there is no single food or food groups can cater all of the nutrients that the children needs.”

C: Common (Parenting) Sense Prevails.

“Although getting the child to eat healthy, regardless of his or her age, can be a constant battle, it is definitely one that’s worth fighting for.

“It is quite simple. A healthy child grows up to become a healthy adult, or at least with healthy habits ingrained into their awareness to start with, and only with their parents’ support and guidance he/she can be both a healthy child and adult.

“The involvement of parents as a role model plays an extremely crucial role in making sure that the child is getting the best nutrition and education surrounding food. Hence, it is important that parents to setting good examples at home, especially when it comes to healthy eating so that their children can naturally follow their footsteps. Common sense also applies here: do not expect your child to eat vegetables and fruits if you do not eat it in the first place, but prepare it for them and expect them to do otherwise.”

Disclaimer: All information and professional guidance are carefully provided to address important but broad topics. Personal consultation with a Dietician is necessary to customize treatments or plans specific to your child’s needs.

Where to go from here?

To work with Mohd Fatahudin Ishak, obtain a referral letter to a Dietician from your Doctor for an appointment at the specialist clinic at Tunku Azizah Hospital. Alternatively, have your Doctor address it to any professional Dietician from a private practice if you prefer.