Anaemia is a medical condition where the number of healthy red blood cells decreases beyond normal. This is a worldwide problem more prevalent among children between 2 to 4 years of age. The red blood cells contain haemoglobin that makes the blood red and helps in sending oxygen to other body tissues. Oxygen plays a vital role in generating energy that is required by the body to perform daily activities. A decrease in the supply of oxygen results in perpetual tiredness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that, globally, 1.62 billion people are anaemic and the highest prevalence of anaemia, that is, 47.4 per cent is among preschoolers. Out of these 293 million, 89 million children are from India.
The two most common forms of anaemia among children are iron deficiency anaemia and hereditary anaemia.
Iron deficiency anaemia
This is the commonest form of anaemia in pre-schoolers and is caused by a decrease in the required level of iron in the body. Iron facilitates the formation of haemoglobin. So, if the level of iron falls, the haemoglobin level also falls which results in anaemia. This can be caused by imbalanced nutrition.
Sometimes defective genes get passed on to the newborn from their parents. This may include defective red blood cells. These abnormal cells get destroyed before reaching the body tissues. The continuous destruction of these cells causes anaemia.
Signs and symptoms
In order to detect anaemia in children, parents must look for common symptoms like tiredness, fatigue, pale skin, increased heart rate, breathlessness and slow growth rate. In extreme cases, where destruction of red blood cells is rapid, children may get jaundice.
The National Family Health Survey states that nearly 74 per cent of Indian children have some level of anaemia. About 23 per cent are mildly anaemic, 46 per cent moderately anaemic, and 5 per cent are severely anaemic. The prevalence of anaemia among children below five years of age is around 70 per cent and under three years of age, 79 per cent.
Ailments caused by anaemia
Anaemia can turn into a serious problem if not dealt with at an early stage. It can affect the child’s cognitive development, and in severe conditions, it might lead to permanent brain damage. It also affects the child’s immunity, making him more prone to infections, slows down the growth process and decreases appetite.
Reasons for decrease in iron in children
Children are born with some iron in their body. Once they are six months old and start on solid foods, there is a change in their iron intake pattern. The body demands extra iron with rapid growth and development. Preschoolers are very active physically and they need an iron-rich diet on a daily basis.
The main reason for iron deficiency is an unbalanced diet. Parents tend to stress on milk if the child refuses to eat solid food. But research has proved that cow’s or goat’s milk has no iron. This leads to the absence of a very important nutrient from the child’s diet. A strictly vegetarian diet is another reason for low iron levels. The iron from vegetables is not easily absorbed by the body. If parents eat meat then it should be included in the child’s diet plan after they are 2 years of age. It will help in maintaining normal iron levels in the body.
Iron rich food and vitamin C
Having a balanced diet plan is very important. At least one meal of the day should be rich in iron. Some of the best iron rich food items are dark green leafy vegetables, beans, meats, raisins, iron-fortified cereals, oatmeal, chicken, fish, egg yolks, peanut butter, tofu and sweet potatoes.
To accelerate the absorption of iron by the body, you can combine these with foods rich in vitamin C. This will boost the absorption rate by up to three times. Vitamin C also helps in repairing the red blood cells. Fruits are a great source of vitamin C. Some of the vitamin C rich foods are strawberry, orange, banana, guava, kiwi, grape, lemon, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes.
Iron rich recipe ideas
If your child is a fussy eater, then start with home-made juices and shakes. Make a mixed fruit juice, banana shake, strawberry shake or just plain fresh lime water. Add chocolate syrup to disguise the colour of fruits. Try using more of citrus fruits as they contain a lot of Vitamin C.
Most children detest vegetables. So, make a puree of one vegetable every day and incorporate it in rice while cooking or add it to chapatti dough. This method will ensure your child gets the much-required mineral iron without putting up a fight.
Another way of adding iron to your child’s diet is by using iron-rich foods as finger food. Plain raisins, sweet potato cakes or fries, fish and chicken fingers, peanut butter sandwich and grilled tofu can be given to children at snack time. This way your children will eat healthy and stay safe from anaemia.