Inadequate nutrition endangers children

Updated: 2011-12-20 08:48

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Chinese children younger than age 5 face serious nutrition problems that could have lifelong health consequences if left unaddressed, senior nutrition experts warned.

The most worrisome problem is deficiencies of vitamins A and D, iron, calcium and zinc among children younger than 5, said Huo Junsheng, director of the food science and technology department of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The consequences are severe because health threats from infant malnutrition are in some cases irreversible and could last for the children's entire lives, affecting their school performance and future economic productivity," Huo said at a workshop in Beijing on Monday for the nutrition of children affected by the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.

For example, a vitamin A deficiency in children severely impairs vision, possibly even leading to blindness, and significantly increases the risk of serious diseases, and even death from common childhood infections such as measles, according to the World Health Organization.

Worldwide, between 250,000 and 500,000 vitamin-A-deficient children lose their sight annually and half of them die within 12 months of becoming blind.China, despite its economic miracle over the past 30 years, has the second-largest number of undersized children worldwide, and one in five children in rural areas is anemic, mainly due to an iron deficiency, statistics showed.

Huo urged the government to make nutritional aid a national policy, particularly among children, through home nutritional-supplement programs.

In a charitable program operated by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and funded by the United Nations Children's Fund, more than 30,000 children in areas hit by the earthquake were fed a protein-based micronutrient powder called Yingyangbao for 18 months.

That helped lower their anemia rate from 52 percent to 26 percent, said Huo, who led the implementation of the program.

"It would cost just pennies each day per child, but the gains are huge both for the families and the country," said Chen Chunming, a nutrition specialist in Beijing.

Huo agreed and urged young parents to increase their nutrition awareness in feeding infants.

"Daily food consumption might not meet children's needs for varied nutrients, especially in poor rural areas," he pointed out.

The most recent national survey of the nutrition, conducted in 2002, found that the daily calcium consumption among the children on the mainland was less than half the recommended level.

"Even in cities, malnutrition is still widespread among children," Chen said.