Nutritional Deficiencies in Children: Early Signs, Causes and Diseases That Kids Can Get

From importance of nutrients to the risk factors associated with its deficiency, here is everything you need to know about Nutritional Deficiency.

Charu Sharma
Written by: Charu SharmaUpdated at: Aug 23, 2021 08:35 IST
Nutritional Deficiencies in Children: Early Signs, Causes and Diseases That Kids Can Get

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Since early childhood we all have been taught to eat healthy and nutritional food, to eat things which have a high nutritional value in order to stay healthy. When all our childhood went into learning about the importance of a diet rich in nutrients, let us learn what actually this nutrition is and what can be the consequences if a child’s body lacks some essential nutrients at an early age along with the signs and symptoms of nutritional deficiency, health complications that it can cause, the root cause of the problem and the importance of some nutrients like Vitamin K2 and Arginine in the growth of a child in its initial years with Dr. Irfan Shaikh, Head Pediatric Nutrition, Scientific & Medical Affairs, Abbott Nutrition and Dr Robert Murray, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Pediatric GI & Nutrition, The Ohio State University. 

What is Nutrition?

Nutrition in a simple manner can be defined as the process of consuming the food in and using it for the purpose of growth, repair and metabolism. This process takes place in several stages starting from ingestion to digestion, absorption, transportation, assimilation and then excretion. It can be understood as the process of eating food and using the energy provided by the food to perform various essential functions and can be said to be the process of nourishing.


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When we talk about a nutritional diet or a diet rich in nutrients it means that whatever food we are consuming consists of ample amounts of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins,fibre, minerals and water) and micronutrients (Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Chlorine, Boron, etc).

It is important for children to have proper nutrition and nourishment at an early age so that they could lead a healthy life and a disease free life. As now we already know what nutrition is and how the entire process takes place, let us take a step ahead and understand about the nutritional deficiency and the impact it can have on a child's health and its consequences.

What is Nutritional Deficiency?

Nutritional deficiency is a term that can be understood as a condition when the body lacks some essential micro and macro nutrients which are important in order to perform some essential bodily functions and for the growth and repair of the body. 


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Also Read: 5 Common Nutritional Deficiencies In Indians

Nutritional deficiency occurs when the body does not get the necessary amount of nutrients from the food or if they are not properly absorbed by the body. When the body is unable to absorb these essential nutrients it starts becoming a hindrance in the process of growth and moreover can cause many health problems such as  stunted or defective bone growth, digestive problems, dementia, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and even cancer.

A child’s development happens in the early years of life – particularly the first 5 years. Children grow in natural, predictable steps, moving from one milestone to the next. Emotional and social development begins at age 2. Their physical development, cognitive development, language, sensory and motor skills also begin to refine.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiency in Children

It is always better to have an early diagnosis and to treat the problem at its initial stage so that you can stop it from turning into a chronic disease and avoid the complications associated with it. Symptoms of nutritional deficiency occur at a much later stage, hence it is very important to map the linear growth of your child along with your paediatrician. This will be a guide to spot any nutritional gaps, and one can address the issues in those at risk, early to reactivate growth and help them reach their full growth potential.


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Also Read: Common Signs of Nutritional Deficiency

Here are some things that you can watch out for if you are concerned that your child is at risk of nutritional deficiency.  You can reach out to your paediatrician to address your concerns and come up with ways to overcome the gaps at an early stage.  

  • Poor food habits
  • If the child has suffered some chronic infection
  • Stunting in parents
  • Weakness
  • Trouble in breathing
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleepiness
  • Unusual food cravings
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue

What causes Nutritional Deficiency?

By now we know about what nutrition and nutritional deficiency is, the risks it involves and the early signs and symptoms of the disease. Now let us go a little further and understand what is the root cause of this issue and things that lead to nutritional deficiency in children. 

1. Nutritional Deficiency in Mother

In most of the cases the process begins at the time of pregnancy and is transferred from mother to the child which affects its brain development and overall health. Deficiency of different kinds of nutrients in the mother can have various effects on the newborn’s overall health as if the mother has the deficiency of Calcium then it can lead to high blood pressure in the newborn. If the mother lacks Vitamin D then it could result in the abnormal bone growth in the child, deficiency of iodine can result in the decreased intellect of the child and deficiency of omega 3 can lead to low birth weight.


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To avoid the problem of malnutrition and its complications in children it is important to ensure that the mother is healthy and isn't facing the issue of nutritional deficiency herself as it can be easily passed on to the child at time of birth and during pregnancy.

2. Poor Eating Habits

Most common causes of inadequate nutrition in toddlers are poor food intake, unhealthy eating habits, frequent/chronic illness and picky eating behaviour. Less visible forms of nutritional deficiencies, such as hidden hunger, can occur when children become deficient in essential vitamins and other micronutrients. These micronutrient deficiencies affect more than 340 million children under 5 globally, delaying their growth, weakening their immune systems and impairing their brain development.

3. Diseases

Nutritional deficiency is not just something that is caused due to lack of proper nutrients or the inability of the body to absorb the nutrients from the food but can be the result of various chronic illnesses and diseases.

Prevention Tips To Avoid Nutritional Deficiency In Children

As always said that prevention is better than cure and it is always good to follow some healthy practices in order to avoid the disease rather than to face the consequences and the complications of the disease. Here are some tips suggested by our experts that will help you to avoid the problem of nutritional deficiency in your child. 


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  • Good nutrition and physical activity are important for any child to achieve the right growth. Micronutrients, though required in small amounts, are essential for proper growth and development of the human body.
  • Parents and caregivers should continually assess their child’s growth and speak with a healthcare professional if they believe their child is falling behind. If nutrition intervention is needed, parents can help by making nutritious foods more available to their child.
  • For children who have trouble getting the right nutrition through food alone, nutritional supplements can help
  • Children need to consume sufficient calories and key nutrients that aid in childhood growth and development including:

Vitamin D: Contributes to the development of strong bones.

Calcium: Maintains skeletal growth and mineral balance of strong bones.

Protein: Helps support muscle development.

  •  Two other key nutrients are Arginine and Vitamin K2, which need to be included in the diet. Intake of these two nutrients is important for healthy growth and development, so maintaining a diet for children that is rich in both is key.

With inputs from Dr. Irfan Shaikh, Head Pediatric Nutrition, Scientific & Medical Affairs, Abbott Nutrition and Dr Robert Murray, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Pediatric GI & Nutrition, The Ohio State University.

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