Early childhood is a crucial time when neurocognitive development and social skills are developed, and good nutrition for this age group is crucial to support healthy neuro development and social behaviour.
Studies show that poor nutritional status in early childhood can lead to impaired cognitive development and contribute to behavioural issues. Nutritional supplementation has been shown to reduce behavioural problems in both early childhood and adolescence (Liu 2017).
A study in 2017 investigated whether there is a link between poor nutritional status and impaired social functioning in children.
Within the study, 1600 three-year-old children were examined for four early indicators of malnutrition:
- Sparse/thin hair – an indicator of protein malnutrition
- Stomatitis – an indicator of vitamin B2 and B3 deficiency
- Hair dyspigmentation – an indicator of protein deficiency
Neurocognitive function was assessed using the Boehm Test of Basic Concepts.
The positive social behaviour measures were performed in a controlled laboratory setting and included:
- Exploratory behaviour (included playing with toys in the presence of their mother)
- Extent of verbalisation to the research assistant
- Friendliness with the person rating them during cognitive testing
- Active social play with other children
The results of the study concluded that children with physical indicators of malnutrition at the age of three showed significantly lower levels of positive social functioning compared with controls. Anaemia was consistently associated with sub-scores of social behaviour, suggesting that anaemia was the most important indicator of malnutrition affecting social behaviour within this study.
Importantly, it was found that the malnutrition-social behaviour relationship was mediated by neurocognitive ability.
The research showed that malnutrition first impairs neurocognition and brain functioning, which then affects the development of positive social functioning skills in children.
Most importantly, we need to remember that every child is different. A one-fits-all approach is not going to be enough when ensuring children are obtaining the nutrients they need. We must look at dietary intake, absorption, digestive strength, and the best way for us to know if our child may be malnourished is by checking symptoms.
The following symptoms may indicate your child may need some assistance in intaking or assimilating nutrients:
thin hair, which is slow to grow
dry skin, skin conditions such as eczema/psoriasis/dermatitis
white fingernails, pale skin, pallor
white spots on fingernails
poor wound healing
peeling or splitting nails
behavioural issues or changes
If you suspect that your child may be low in some nutrients, or would like to take on a preventative approach, book a time with your naturopath who can make an assessment and put together a personalised treatment plan.
Yvette is a qualified Melbourne-based Naturopath and Nutritionist, MINDD Practitioner, member of the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia, and Complementary Medicine Association. Yvette specialises in the treatment of conditions commonly affecting women and children, with a key interest in children’s digestive and neurological conditions, as well as women’s hormonal concerns, digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, and skin concerns. Yvette consults in South Yarra, Melbourne, as well as Australia-wide via skype/zoom/phone.
The Naturopathic Co. Melbourne Naturopath 2020