We may think our children are eating healthy but are they getting enough? Find out more about micronutrient deficiency.

Anshul (name changed) is a 12-year-old boy studying in std. VI. He belongs to an affluent family of Delhi. Anshul always scores well in exams and participates in various extracurricular activities including sports and dramatics.

Of late Anshul has been feeling lethargic and weak. He is not able to do well in school. Initially the doctors could not understand why. Later they discovered that Anshul suffered from anaemia due to micronutrient deficiency.

Not enough nutrients

How can a child from an affluent urban family be malnourished? This is due to “hidden hunger”. We may think that children are eating healthy but they may not get the required amount of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis, which may cause a deficiency of micronutrients (nutrients required in small quantities).

In the urban set-up, micronutrient deficiency can not be attributed to affordability or availability of food. One reason could be that the children eat small quantities or a variety of food items. In addition factors like frequent childhood infections may further restrict optimal food intake to meet nutrient requirement. Inappropriate eating practices, cooking patterns and lifestyle further compound the problem.

The fat and cholesterol content of the food we consume is much higher than that of essential micronutrients. This can be attributed to the lack of a balanced diet.

Across all sections

Micronutrient deficiency threatens the health of not just children, but also across all age groups. The elderly, pregnant women and people suffering from lifestyle diseases like diabetes are also vulnerable to micronutrient deficiency.

In today's environment, every one faces the onslaught of junk food, pollution, unprecedented levels of stress, lack of time and lifestyle induced diseases.

Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with moderate exercise, are more critical than ever before. Improved dietary intake or inclusion of micronutrient rich or fortified foods may help meet nutritional requirements.

In accordance with the RDAs, the daily balanced diet of an individual should include adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Strategies

Two food-based strategies, i.e. diversifying diets and fortification of certain commonly consumed foods, can dramatically improve the condition. Packed foods and supplements can be useful to fortify the diet, provided they are used judiciously.

Micronutrient deficiency or ‘hidden hunger' is a problem that looms large and will almost certainly overwhelm us if it remains unaddressed.

Bringing about simple changes like diversification of diet, fortification of foods and lifestyle modification can help improve the sityuation. Effective implementation of these strategies is both the challenge and the need of the hour.

The writer is a Delhi-based nutritionist.