IntroductionDespite the increased focus on overweight and obese children,almost one in every three American children is overweight or obese.
As aresult, many parents are confused as they fail to understand what kinds offoods should their children eat during their early years and what nutrients areneeded for proper mental and cognitive development. Nutrition is one single andgreatest environmental influence in the growth and development of babies bothwhile in the mother’s womb and during his/her early years of infancy.Throughout the first years of life, nutrition plays a critical role ininfluencing the mental development of a child. Hence, a properly balanced dietcontaining all the nutrient is essential for normal brain growth anddevelopment(Morley & Lucas, 2017).Shortage ofnutrients including iodine and iron may negatively affect the motor andcognitive development of a child, and this may not be reversed because a childwill be growing despite the lack of these essential nutrients.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is an important fattyacid is an essential component in the mass production of synapses and whichsignificantly influences a child’s first years of life, a time which iscritical for mental and cognitive development, and learning. Other nutrientssuch as folic acid, choline, zinc, etc. are among the other crucial and mostessential nutrients required by a child for proper mental development and brainfunctioning during the early years of life. During the first 20 to 36 weeks ofa person’s life, there is a very rapid brain development and growth, whichcontinues until 20 months of age. A child’s brain, at birth, has neurons whichare required for life. An infant’s brain at birth is 25% of the adult brainweight and by the age of 2 years, and child’s brain weight is 75% that of anadult. Children go through several stages of mental and cognitive developmentbetween birth and the age of 2 years (Jain & Samuel, 2013). There is also rapidsensory and language development during this age and which is greatlyinfluenced by mental growth.
Iron and MentalDevelopment in ChildrenAlthough nutrients are essential for brain and mentaldevelopment and functioning, certain nutrient intake has a more profound effecton mental and brain development than others. Iron, for example, is an essentialnutrient for mental development in toddlers and its lack leads to anemia.Anemia causes a psychomotor delay in children. It refers to a child’s delayedmental development and proper functioning in which a child’s association withthe surrounding environment is reduced (Engle, Irwin, Klein, Yarbrough, & Townsend, 2009).
According to Jainand Samuel (2013), children who consume iron-rich foods during their first twoyears develop increased rate of weight gain and an increased rate of mentalgrowth and development.Four studies were conducted to examine iron supplementationand impacts on school children of different ages and both sexes. According tothe first study which was aimed at examining the impact of iron-folic acidnutrients and supplements, it was revealed that there were improved totalscores for children with anemia which was significantly higher compared tothose without anemia for children between the ages of 7 and 8. The experimentwas conducted within 60 days involving 94 boys and girls aged between five andeight years. The second study focused on iron supplements and their effects oncognition among 14 pairs of anemic boys aged between five and six years.
Theexperiment was aimed at establishing the beneficial effects of iron supplementson cognitive and mental development among children with anemia. The thirdexperiment concentrated on establishing the effects of varying elemental irondosages on mental development and functioning in children aged between eightand fifteen years with various improvement levels. The last study utilized 163anemic girls to investigate the impacts of iron supplementation within a 4-8-monthperiod. This study revealed that there was significant improvement in scores inmental functioning at the end of the eighth month.Iodine and Mental Development Conditions of iodine deficiency lead to decreased level ofintelligence, mental and neurologic damage, psychomotor retardation, andcretinism among others.
Studies on preschoolers and infants with irondeficiency have shown that iron-deficient infants and preschoolers have lowscores of mental development and functioning. Such iron-deficient infants andpreschoolers also showed signs of inattentiveness, increased fearfulness, anddecreased social responsiveness (Morell, 2010).Iodine deficiency also affects neuro-intellectual development inchildren and this damage increases with increased iodine deficiency. Duringearly pregnancy, maternal hypothyroxinemia is an important factor in thechild’s mental development. While a combined selenium and iodine deficiencypartly helps in preventing neurological damage in children, it precipitatessevere hypothyroidism.
Iodine deficiency in children is one of the world’slargest cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damag