What’s Hidden Hunger?
9 out of 10 kids are at risk!
While growing up, I don’t think my parents ever checked what nutritional value food products had, also I was a 90’s kid and packaged food wasn’t in vogue. Neither was fast food, nor eating out every other day was the norm. We ate normal ghar ka khana, which was a balanced meal of protein, veggies and carbs.
But that’s not the case anymore. We are now more conscious of what we put in our bodies. There is a whole diet industry out there, catering to all sorts of food requirements. But then why is India home to 184 million undernourished people, majority of them being children. That’s an astounding 9 out of 10 kids at risk! Are we missing the big picture?
HIDDEN HUNGER AMIDST PLENTY
Studies have shown that the reason for malnutrition in India is micronutrients deficiency, also known as the hidden hunger.
What is micronutrients deficiency?
What is a micronutrient?
We would have seen them a million times, we do look at those little numbers printed on bottles and jars, and food packages. Most of the times we ignore these number and at best, check for the fat percentage! Right ?? The fact is that these numbers have a purpose and there is a reason why they are mentioned on food items.
Nutrients in food can be divided into macro- and micronutrients, just like the study of economics. Micronutrients support the proper functioning of the body making sure our vital organs are running smoothly and all systems are in good shape and there are no internal hiccups. These nutrients are needed to ensure a healthy metabolism but in smaller quantities than micronutrients.
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. These are zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D and folate; essential for children to grow up healthy both mentally and physically.
Though required in small amounts, Micronutrients produce essential enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for a child’s proper growth and development. We have all gone through puberty and hormonal changes. This is when you need micronutrients the most.
Micronutrients and their role in the functioning of a body are as follows:-
- Riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid are required to play an active part in intermediary metabolism and ensure utilisation of the macronutrients to provide energy.
- Vitamins (A and E) have antioxidant properties, i.e. they limit cellular damage to cells from metabolism.
- Vitamin A is vital for physical growth and mental development.
- Zinc and selenium act as “helper molecules” that assist in metabolism. In small amounts, they are either involved in controlling the enzyme activity or are an integral part of the enzyme.
- Zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium act as antioxidants to contain metabolic damage to living cells in the body.
- Iron and iodine are required for the integrity and optimal functioning of immune system, physical growth, and neuro-motor development
In simple words, the food you consume needs to be digested so that you can derive energy from it. This is metabolism, but an entity is required to assist the metabolic process, like an enzyme. That enzyme is got from a micronutrients. Our bodies derive energy from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. However, micronutrients are essential because the body is unable to synthesize it, either completely or adequately. So, it needs to be drawn from a balanced diet.
Are you sure that you are consuming the right nutrients, or providing them to your children?
The answer is a big No.
Micronutrients deficiency is eating away at India’s human resource capital and potential. Research done by Dr V. V. Varadrajan, MD, (PED), DCH,Consultant Paediatrician, Infectious Diseases & Pulmonology, reveals that on the global hidden hunger charts, India fares worse than sub-Saharan countries like Burkino Faso and the Congo
A recent study of 634 Bangalore school children, drawn equally from the various socio-economic sections, found that up to 95% of children surveyed, could be at risk of inadequate micronutrients intake, with almost 70% at risk of having insufficient intake of four or more micronutrients. The intake of nutrients that were most inadequate, as per the Bangalore study were vitamin A, Folate, Vitamin B12 and Iron, leaving children susceptible to stunting, weakened immune systems impaired cognitive function, anemia, low energy levels and other devastating effects of hidden hunger.
The Bangalore study also showed that the risk of inadequacy in nutrient intake can exist regardless of socio-economic class. The children surveyed were a mix of lower, middle and high socio-economic groups and had macronutrient dietary intakes that met standard recommendations, yet were found to be at risk of inadequate intake of micronutrients
This research is proof that this deficiency can hit any strata of the society. You think you are providing the right kind of food to your children, but some where something is lacking. This isn’t your fault, no one really knows about this dietary need. More often we hear about Iron deficiency or Vitamin B deficiency, and assume this happens to people who are starving. But that’s not the case. Micronutrients deficiency is invisible initially till it becomes problematic. One of the biggest problems in dealing with hidden hunger is its invisible nature. Clinical manifestations of deficiencies often become visible only when they are severe, by which time it is usually too late.
Unfortunately, we don’t often get the nutritional knowledge needed to spot hidden hunger. A pediatric study in Mumbai of 111 urban affluent mums found that more than half of them were unable to tell if their children were under or over weight and attributed this to Indian mothers’ general perception of a chubby baby as healthy. Yet, paradoxical as it may seem, an obese or overweight child can still suffer from hidden hunger. Indian parents in most cases, may not have a good understanding of the nutritional breakdown of foods.
For example, carbohydrate-dense foods such as rice and chapati may fill their children’s bellies but lack essential micronutrients.
Growing children need these nutrients. I remember how I was forced to eat a banana everyday as a child. It’s sad but children these days, have no concept of fruits or veggies. You don’t need to get fancy exotic food to get these nutrients. Normal vegetables and fruits will cater to all your needs. Eating clean is important, but eating right is way more important.
If you are wondering what Micronutrients deficiency can lead to, let me list out some of them for you:
- It increases vulnerability to infection and impaired development.
- Children may ‘appear healthy’ but suffer extremely negative impacts on health and well-being.
- Children may be stunted, have poor night vision or suffer frequently from illness.
- Adults, too, may succumb more frequently to illness and fatigue easily
Among Indian children under five years of age, almost 40% are stunted, 60% suffer from anemia, often a consequence of inadequate iron intake, which reduces vitality and impairs cognitive development. India is also home to more than 85% of all children in South Asia with xerophthalmia, the world’s leading preventable cause of blindness and an important indicator of vitamin A deficiency.
“Essential Micronutrients” is the buzzword in the world of children’s nutrition. It is an integral part of wholesome nourishment derived from food items.
Scientific studies have established that a micronutrients rich diet not only provides for the growth and strength but also for the sharpness of your child’s physical and mental wellness. You are already aware that minuscule amounts of micronutrients are enough for the healthy functioning of your child’s body.
However, if you are wondering which food items are the best sources of micronutrients, here’s a chart you can refer to:
How can you prevent malnutrition ?
Nutrient-poor foods don’t provide the sufficient nourishment. Instead, they lead to unhealthy weight gain and diseases. A health food drink, such as Horlicks, provides school-going children with the essential micronutrients known to be important for growth and development. Ensuring a diet of essential micronutrients during childhood lays the foundation for the child to subsequently be a healthy adult.
Stop the junk food and the sugar concentrated drinks, and instead give your child fruits and veggies. They will complain, but you are the parent. You know better.
First and foremost spot hidden hunger. For example, the warning signs of iron deficiency ‒ loss of appetite, lethargy, breathlessness, to name a few ‒ are also strong indicators of other micronutrients deficiencies as the condition rarely occurs in isolation.
Educating ourselves about good nutrition has positive health care effects on our children. Identify all food items rich in micronutrients and incorporate them in their daily diet. Improve grocery-shopping habits; instead of getting a bag of pasta, get some spinach.
Feed the child a diverse diet which includes a variety of cereals, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and animal-source foods. Not burgers and pizzas. Also, don’t take your children to the mall every week and feed them unnecessary sugar containing items.
Look out for foods and drinks fortified with micronutrients.
We all want to be good parents, and want the best for our children and their future. Well, that all starts with a good bill of health and diet, the rest the children can take care of. Educate yourself about food nutrients, read the labels. If you don’t understand it, then don’t consume it. Take your children for grocery shopping, give them different healthy alternatives. Most importantly, listen to them. They will tell you if something is wrong.
For the future of our children and for India, it’s time we helped them to step up to the plate. Read more about Hidden Hunger and how you as a parent can make a difference!