Hyderabad: Proper nutrition for the expectant mother and child is key to a healthy baby. Moreover, any nutritional deficiency must be dealt with in the stage before conception, emphasises the National Institute of Nutrition which is celebrating its centenary year.
In the first 1,000 days of life from the time of conception to two years the child requires adequate nutrition which is essential for brain development, building a strong immune system and also safeguards the child from predisposition to infectious diseases, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in adult life.
Research and studies have shown that malnutrition in early life can cause irreversible damage to the child's growth and development and also diminishes the capacity to learn, which leads to poor performance in school and also increases susceptibility to infections.
In a detailed conversation, Dr R. Hemalatha, director of the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) explains that in India it is not just the first 1000 days, it is 1000+ days that are important. The 1000+ days means not only from the time of conception, but also much before a woman plans to conceive. Improving nutrition only during the pregnancy period is not sufficient.
Why the focus on pre-conception nutritional deficiencies?
With over 50 per cent of women suffering from anaemia, and about 22 per cent women in both rural and urban areas suffering from chronic energy deficiency (CED), we think that there is a need to improve the nutritional status of women before they become pregnant. After pregnancy, supplementation is provided but it requires a healthy mother to enable a healthy pregnancy and deliver a healthy child.
When a mother is healthy then the development of the child in terms of brain development and immune system is much better. A mother who has deficiencies is more likely to give birth to a malnourished child. When the mother is healthy, the child will be smart and healthy and that will ensure that the next generation is healthy.
How can this message be sent to the common people?
NIN is planning to develop pre-conception health booklets for young couples to be presented as a wedding gift through grassroots level health functionaries and also when they come for registration of marriage. There are also various other programmes of government through which this message is being spread at grassroots level.
There has now been a convergence of various government departments whereby the nutrition enhancements are now worked with health and family welfare, Women and child development, Water and sanitation, rural development, urban development, school education department, social welfare department, human resource development and also co-ordinated with other state level departments where improving nutritional status is a priority.
Of late we are hearing about inflammation in pregnancies, mostly when a mother is above 30 in her first pregnancy. What nutritional factors are responsible and what are consequences?
In pregnancies, inflammation could be a major factor. Inflammation is seen both in under-nourished women and also those who are overweight or obese due to micronutrient deficiencies.
Among overweight or obese people, consumption of fatty foods, diets with high sugar, fried foods and high calorie diets can cause inflammation. Inflammation in the body is also due to stress, environmental factors, hygiene factors, aging process and this has an adverse effect on the foetal sac or amniotic fluid. To beat inflammation it is important to have about 300 ml of curd/milk or milk products and 400 gm of vegetables and fruits every day. Inflammation is also found to reduce the absorption of micro-nutrients in the body.
In urban areas the prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases is high. How must this be tackled?
The number of women who are overweight and obese in urban areas is 44 per cent while among men it is 34 per cent according to the data released by NIN’s in 2017. Moreover, 19.4 per cent of women have diabetes.
There is a need to sensitise the community about obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Behaviour change has to be communicated so that people understand what a healthy lifestyle is. Improving your health requires giving it time, and adopting short-cuts does not help.