Undernutrition increases death risk of children up to 20 times: experts

DHAKA, May 29, 2019 (BSS/UNICEF FEATURE) – A child who suffers from
severe acute undernutrition has a risk of death up to 20 times greater than
that of a healthy child, heath experts told BSS.

Child underweight is a measure of child undernutrition that encompasses
all children who have a low weight for their age, they said adding this could
be due to stunting or a combination of the two.

Dr Rukhsana Haider, chairperson of Training and Assistance for Health
and Nutrition Foundation (THAN), said acute undernutrition can be prevented
through adequate feeding practices and improved hygiene, assuming that
households are food secure and able to access healthcare.

Adequate infant and young child feeding (IYCF) is necessary for
survival, growth, and development of children from adolescent and adulthood,
she added.

The lancet series in 2013 estimated that 12 percent of all deaths of
children under the age of five could be prevented through universal coverage
of appropriate breastfeeding while six of deaths could be reduced with
appropriate complementary feeding practices.

Dr Rukhsana said early initiation of breastfeeding meaning to provide
breast milk to infant within one hour of birth will ensure their healthy
growth alongside enhancing the immune system of the body. She said, “Infants
should be given first breast milk (colostrum), which is rich in antibodies
and contains a larger percentage of protein, minerals and fat soluble vitamin
than mature milk.”

“Generally, colostrum (first breast milk) is available up to five days
after giving birth of a child. Sometimes it exists up to three days. So, we
should feed colostrum to our children within one hour of their births,” she
added.

Dr Rukhsana, also co-chair of World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action
(WABA), said, “We should not ignore feeding the first breast milk as it is
the first immunization for children, which protects them from many diseases.
Feeding colostrum to infants has long-term health benefits.”

Former Director of Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka
University Professor Dr Khursheed Jahan said child undernutrition is the
result of multiple factors, including poor maternal nutrition before birth,
infection leading to mal-absorption of nutrients, and caloric or
micronutrient inadequacy due to a poor diet.

Stunting or linear growth retardation increases the child’s likelihood
of death due in part to a reduced ability to fight infection and has been
linked to a greater risk of chronic diseases later in life, such as heart
diseases, diabetes and kidney damage.

She laid emphasis on launching intensive campaign to educate people on
appropriate complementary feeding practices for maintaining normal
nutritional status of children.

Inappropriate and insufficient complementary food feedings are largely
responsible for poor nutritional status among the infant and young children
of the country.

Breast milk is the ideal food for infants and an important part of diet
of young children, Dr Khursheed said, adding intervention to protect and
promote early breastfeeding can greatly improve child survival, averting
their deaths.

“Breastfeeding helps prevent dehydration. Optimum breastfeeding
practices also improve cognitive, motor and socio-emotional development as
well as learning capacity,” she added.

According to a study paper of Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation,
breastfeeding to infants within one-hour after their birth can reduce 31
percent infant mortality rate while 13 percent child mortality rate can be
reduced through breastfeeding till six-month-old.