Nutrition is fundamental to good health and development, especially in the early years of life. It is a fact that if children do not eat the required quantity of micronutrients like protein, fat, zinc, iron, and so on, they may suffer from illnesses and delays in mental and motor development. This can lead to serious adverse effects beyond childhood and could even result in death.

It is also important to consider the fact that optimal nutrition is essential in early childhood because the reversal of its adverse effects becomes especially difficult after the first two years of life.

The relationship between nutrition, health, and learning (cognition) is exceptionally strong; nutrition is one of the three major factors that affect a child’s development, with genes and the environment being the other two factors.

In children between the ages of one and three, we expect development in many social, cognitive, and motor areas, like beginning to cooperate and play with other toddlers, learning how to count, and showing a strong attachment to one’s parents.

Importantly, young children need up to seven times more nutrients (five times more iron, seven times more vitamin D, and three times more fatty acids) than adults because of their rapid growth, even though their stomachs are five times smaller than that of adults.

Early life is characterized by rapid growth and development. Many organs are still in development throughout infancy and young childhood, including the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, adipose tissue, and brain.

Given that the body size doubles and body weight increases five-fold in the first three years of life, the nutrient requirement is particularly high in order to keep up with the body’s needs.

Gross deficiency of food in early life interferes with brain development and causes other long-term problems in growth, immune function, cognition, motor development, behavior, and academic performance.

Two studies found that iron deficiency might make children more worrisome, unhappy, closed off from their mothers, and less social.

Regarding vitamin D, which is essential for bone health, a clinical study found that there is a significant relationship between vitamin D deficiency and proper brain development and functioning; individuals with this deficiency were unsocial, cried without reason, and exhibited speech difficulty and developmental delays.

Dr. Amer Hanaqta

Pediatrician and Neonatologist

Show Resources
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  • Energy- EFSA 2013; Protein- EFSA 2012, Micronutrients- Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012
  • Guideline: Daily iron supplementation in infants and children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2016.
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  • WHO, 2013.