Is Your Child Malnourished?

by Kelly Dorfman , M.S., Cofounder of DDR

Malnutrition is often associated with the image of a thin, forlorn child with a distended belly. Another kind of malnutrition, with high and empty calories, runs rampant in America, among people who never experience deprivation. Children with developmental delays are especially susceptible to this type of malnutrition because they tend to be picky eaters or may be on restricted diets for the treatment of allergies or autism.

What is high or empty calorie malnutrition?

A person can gain weight eating excessive calories consisting only of bread and french fries, missing the nutrients needed for optimal neurological development. During critical brain development periods, such a diet can cause permanent damage due to lack of essential vitamin and mineral building blocks.

Picky eaters may eat too little food or suffer from empty calorie malnutrition by eating junk foods with excess calories but few nutrients. If their intake is poor over a long enough period, a type of anorexia or growth hormone deficiency can develop. Anorexia in developmentally delayed children represents a combination of the inability to sense hunger, tactile defensiveness in the mouth, and malnutrition. Insufficient zinc, vitamin B1 and other nutrients cause decreased taste acuity and poor appetite.

Is your child malnourished?

Does he/she look malnourished? Visual diagnosis, a dying art, tells us that kids in good nutritional shape are vibrant and have good coloring. Professionals often tell concerned parents not to worry as long as a pale, lethargic fussy eater is gaining weight. These well meaning professionals often view parents as overly anxious or poor disciplinarians. Trust your instincts. Children who do not look healthy, and whose diets would not satisfy a healthy adult, are probably malnourished.

Are they eating fresh fruits and vegetables? Yes, children can and should eat vegetables. The fact that many don‘t is not acceptable. Many of the anti-oxidants that support neurological health also protect us from chronic illness, and are found in fresh produce. Poorly nourished children often cannot taste the flavors of fruits and vegetables, which are subtle when compared to artificially enhanced, heavily salted or sweetened packaged foods. For others the textures, colors and smells of fresh produce may be overwhelming. Work with a speech, occupational or oral motor therapist increases tolerance for dietary variety, improves speech and oral motor flexibility, and supports general health in sensory defensive children.

What can I do until my child starts eating better?

Poor eating and malnutrition become a vicious cycle. Malnutrition impairs taste and appetite, and impaired taste and appetite lower one’s interest in good food. To break this cycle, close the gap between what is needed and what is actually eaten by using nutritional supplements. While whole foods are better, supplements can provide the missing link in a child’s development. When designing a supplement program, be sure to include all nutrients on the accompanying chart. This is a partial list of the most critical additions.

Nutrients Function Under Age 3 Over Age 3
Vitamin C protects against toxins, supports immune system 100-250mg 250-1000mg
Vitamin E detoxification, protects fat-soluble tissue 30-100 IU 60-200 IU
BVitamins growth, repair of neurological function 2-10x RDA 2-10x RDA
Zinc immune function, growth, repair, taste, smell, sexual maturation 5-12mg 12-20mg
Calcium healthy bones and teeth, calms nervous system 900mg 900mg
Selenium mercury displacement 50 mcg 50-150mcg
Chromium blood sugar stability 50 mcg 50-150mcg
EFAs cognition, neurological function, calms nervous system 1tsp flaxseed or
1/2 tsp cod liver oil
1tsp flaxseed or
1/2 tsp cod liver oil

 

Contact a nutritionally trained health professional if you have specific questions regarding your child. Be sure to choose a professional with experience using nutrients with children.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 6, Number 4 - Spring, 2001]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.


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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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