Nutritional Deficiency in Infants and Young Children

By Dr. Divya Mandial | 4th Mar 2023

Nutritional Deficiency in Infants and Young Children

Common nutritional deficiencies in childhood

Micronutrients play an important role in growth and development, especially under five. It is a critical period for a child’s growth. At an early stage, minerals and vitamins play a vital role in the production and functioning of enzymes, hormones and growth regulator proteins. These also help maintains appropriate oxygen levels in the blood. They also help develop bones, the brain, the reproductive system, and the immune system.

Nutritional deficiency under five years hampers a child’s growth, leading to underweight, stunting, cognitive impairment and behavioural disorders. It also makes children susceptible to chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, rickets, amenia, cancer, stroke and heart diseases at an early age. It was estimated that in 2019, over 100 million children under five suffered from nutritional deficiencies globally. At the same time, lack of nutrients leads to disease that accounts for more than 3 million deaths globally in children less than five years per year.

Schoolchildren’s most common nutrient deficiencies include calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins A, D and E. It is reported that approximately 5 lakh children deficient in Vitamin A become blind yearly, and half die within 12 months of losing vision. At the same time, 41.7% of children worldwide have an iron deficiency, the leading cause of anaemia. 

In addition to impairing health, childhood nutritional deficiencies also cause social problems, such as less schooling, lower academic performance and lower economic productivity. It imposes a heavy burden on society that needs to be addressed.

Here are some common nutrients deficient in Children:

Iron Deficiency

Iron is an essential mineral that binds to haemoglobin in blood to carry oxygen throughout the body. The daily requirement of iron in children varies with age and sex as follows:

  • Infants up to 6 months require 0.27 mg per day
  • Infants up to 1 year require 11 mg per day
  • Children from 1 to 3 years require 7 mg per day
  • Children from 4 to 8 years require 10 mg per day
  • Boys 9 to 18 years require 8-11 mg per day
  • Girls 9 to 18 years require 8-15 mg per day

Iron deficiency in children leads to anaemia, a condition in which blood does not have enough RBCs. Children who are not breastfed and children who do not consume an iron-rich diet are at high risk of iron deficiency. The common symptoms of iron deficiency in children include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • pale skin, lips, and nail beds
  • decreased appetite
  • Delayed brain development
  • behavioural problems, such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, and reduced attention
  • frequent infections due to a weak immune system

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is an essential mineral for developing the skeletal, brain and immune systems. It assists the body in absorbing calcium and phosphorus. In Infants 0 to 12 months of age, the daily requirement of vitamin D is 400-1,000 international units (IU), depending on the feeding method. Infants below one year need 400 IU of Vitamin D per day. At the same time, children 1 to 18 years need 600-1,000 IU of Vitamin D per day.

The bones in children cannot mineralise without Vitamin D. It can lead to rickets, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle. Children with a high percentage of fat, darker skin tones and insufficient sun exposure are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. The prominent symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in children include:

  • delayed growth and development
  • bone fractures
  • weak muscles and difficulty in coordination
  • frequent bone and muscle pain
  • dental problems
  • weaken the immune system

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc is an essential micronutrient that helps in the synthesis of DNA. It also helps boost immune functioning, brain functioning, and wound healing and maintains healthy skin. The daily requirement of zinc varies with age and sex as follows:

  • Infants up to 6 months require 2 mg per day
  • Infants up to 1 year require 3 mg per day
  • Children from 1 to 3 years require 3 mg per day
  • Children from 4 to 8 years require 5 mg per day
  • Boys from 9 to18 to years require 8-11mg per day
  • Girls from 9 to13 years require 8-9 mg per day

Zinc deficiency in children can have adverse health consequences, such as retarded growth, weak immunity, and increased susceptibility to infections. Premature infants, those not breastfed, or children experiencing chronic diarrhoea are at high risk of zinc deficiency. The common symptoms of Zinc deficiency in children include:

  • stunted growth
  • sexual maturation
  • Diarrhoea
  • delayed wound healing
  • skin rashes and lesions.
  • lack of appetite
  • hair loss

Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is an essential mineral for children’s growth and development of strong bones, muscles and teeth. The daily calcium requirement in a child is as follows:

  • Infants up to 6 months require 200 mg per day
  • Infants up to 1 year require 260 mg per day
  • Children from 1 to 3 years require 700 mg per day
  • Children from 4to 8 years require1,000 mg per day
  • Children from 9 to13 years require1,300 mg per day

Low levels of calcium lead to hypocalcemia. Children who consume a diet deficient in calcium are at high risk of developing hypocalcemia. The common symptoms of Calcium deficiency in children include:

  • weakened bones
  • fractures
  • Neuromuscular impairment
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Reduced concentration
  • tooth decay and other dental problems.
  • Muscle cramps and spasms in the legs and arms.
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers, toes, and around the mouth.
  • Tiredness and weakness

How To Prevent Nutritional Deficiency Diseases In Your Children?

Nutrient deficiency diseases in children can be treated and prevented with a combination of a nutritious diet and adopting healthy habits. Here are some preventive measures that will support your child’s growth:

Ensure that your child has a balanced and varied diet

A well-balanced diet is vital to preventing any nutritional deficiency in children. A child’s diet should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It will help them get the essential micronutrients for

Encourage healthy snacking in your child

Snacking on fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain snacks, with balanced calories instead of processed and high-calorie snacks is a better option.

Encourage your child to drink more water

Water is essential for children to stay hydrated and improve overall health. It also helps prevent constipation. Make your child drink water throughout the day, especially during and after physical activity.

Exposure to sunlight

Vitamin D is naturally produced by the sun and helps strengthen bones. Sunlight exposure before 10 am is best due to the low UV index.

Keep track of their growth and development

Routine checkups with a paediatrician can help identify any nutritional deficiencies early, allowing timely treatment and management.

Supplement your child when necessary

Some children are unable to absorb sufficient nutrients from their diet. In that case, supplements such as multivitamins and minerals can help meet their nutritional demands. It’s essential to consult a paediatrician for the dosage of supplements.

Encourage physical activity in your children

Encourage your child for at least 1 hr of physical activity. It will help strengthen their muscles and bones and also improve their concentration.

Discourage processed foods

Processed and junk foods are high in refined carbs, salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Limiting these foods can help maintain a healthy weight with additional health benefits.

Encourage breastfeeding in infants

Nutritional deficiencies in infants can be prevented with breastfeeding. Mother’s milk is a balanced blend of nutrients easily digestible for infants and prevents them from nutritional deficiencies in later life.

In the event your child shows signs of nutritional deficiency, it is essential to talk to a paediatrician for proper evaluation and treatment. He will recommend dietary, lifestyle and supplements to fulfil the nutritional requirement of your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common nutritional deficiency diseases seen in Indian children?

The common nutrient deficiency diseases seen in Indian children include:
Amemia due to iron deficiency; Rickets due to Vitamin D deficiency; Visual impairment due to Vitamin A deficiency; Goitre due to iodine deficiency; Hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency due to deficiency of protein and calories; Protein-energy malnutrition

What are the seven types of nutrition?

Seven great sources of nutrition include:
Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat, Vitamin, Mineral, Fiber, Water 

What are the natural sources of Vitamin D?

Natural sources of Vitamin D include:
Sunlight, salmon, Dairy products, Egg yolk, mushrooms

Which foods are rich in iron?

Foods rich in iron include:
Red meat, Poultry, Seafood, Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, Spinach, Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, breakfast cereals and bread

Which are the most common nutrients lacking in children?

Most children lack iron, vitamin D, calcium, zinc and vitamin B.

What are the most common symptoms of nutritional deficiencies in kids?

The most common symptoms of nutritional deficiency in kids include depression, anxiety, delayed speech, dry skin, infections, lethargy, dental cavities, reduced concentration, irritability and obesity.

Disclaimer: The information given in this article is true to our best knowledge. Still, we recommend you consult your paediatrician first before taking any supplement or treatment for nutritional deficiency mentioned in this article.



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