- by Dr Gowher Yusuf
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- Mar 23 2017
Under-nutrition and Cognitive Development
Nutrition is important for the survival and functioning of the body. Good nutrition in addition to promoting proper growth also provides first line of defense against several childhood diseases. It also improves their ability to learn, communicate, think analytically, socialize effectively and adapt to new environments and people. As regards cognitive, “when there is not enough food, the body has to make a decision about how to invest the limited foodstuffs available”. Survival comes first, growth comes second. In this nutritional triage, the body seems obliged to rank learning last – “Better to be stupid and alive than smart and dead”.
Under-nutrition affects the physical dimensions of the body as well as the psychosocial development. It adversely influences various biochemical and physiological functions of the body and through them the functions of the brain. Nutrition alone is probably not responsible because, these problems though reversible to a great extent with nutritional rehabilitation, are also influenced by parental and socio-economic factors.
Cognitive deficits related to under-nutrition are now believed to result from complex interactions between environmental insults and under-nutrition. The longer a child’s nutritional, emotional and educational needs go unmet, the greater the overall cognitive deficits. Continuous low nutritional intake, usually affects psychological factors such as motivation, attentiveness and emotional expressions. These in turn, may have a negative effect on critical developmental processes including parent-child interaction, attachment, and play and eventually learning. But unless major and irreparable physiological insult has occurred, improved nutrition and conditions in the social environment can modify the developmental effects of biological and social risk factors to which the child is exposed in early life.
Effects of under nutrition cost far more than the diminished well being of youngsters during childhood. It robs the children of their natural human potential and results in lost knowledge, brainpower and productivity. The longer and more severe the malnutrition, the greater are the likely loss.
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