Dumbing Down the Future: The importance of early nutrition and childrens' overall health & wealth

How critical is nutrition for your kids? The short answer...EXTREMELY! Of course you may say, this is not headline news. But what if I told you that ensuring your children receive the appropriate nutrition not only have an impact on their health by lowering the risk of disease, but also increase the amount of money they will earn in their lifetime. Recent studies suggest that the earlier children are exposed to nutrition the better to help support a more productive future. 

Historically, the obvious effects of poor nutrition or malnutrition are easily seen. Some of these are as follows: 

  • delayed cognition or slow mental health
  • stunted growth 
  • susceptibility to chronic illness and disability
  • less physically and intellectually productive 

The less common effects of poor and under nutrition are:

  • longer work days
  • 46% lower wages
  • 12% lower life-time earnings

Under nutrition is a world-wide problem. It has been established that 32% of all children in developing countries shown stunted growth.  The major cause of most non-communicable diseases (NCD) like heart disease, diabetes and obesity is poor nutrition. Poor nutrition places a huge strain on the economy, increasing medical cost through the chronic treatment of these NCDs as well as draining the workforce through increased sick days and disability. However, NCDs are not only the impact from improper nutrition. For instance, zinc deficiencies increase a person's risk of developing infectious disease. Zinc deficiencies account for nearly 1 million deaths per year through various diseases such as; diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, as revealed in the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 2008 report, 'Investing in Early Childhood Nutrition'.  

As problematic as these health concerns are, a less known potentially growing problem of lack of nutrition in early life is the economic impact. Another study published in The Lancet looked at the impact that nutrition had on children over their life. This studies followed a large sample of Guatemalan children for 40 years. One group of the kids received simple nutrients and the other did not. When the subjects were re-examined later in adulthood, it was shown that those children which were provided the nutrients earned 46% higher wages! 99% of the males that received the early nutrition worked in at least one income earning job, 43% work on their own farms and 28% operated their own business. 

So how is this relevant to us in America you may ask? Because we live in the most advanced, free society in the world, we often take for granted and neglect the ones right at our doors. It is estimated that 15.8 million children (20% of the children population) live in under nourished conditions. Even with all of our opportunities and benefits in this country, these children often go to school hungry. Studies reviewing the areas where proper nutrition was provided to the kids, revealed an overall improvement in behavior and test scores. The Society of Neuroscience reported that diets with higher levels of poly and unsaturated fats improved learning and memory while high sugar diets produced "crashes" and tiredness. Proper nutrition is key. 

Poor nutrition is also linked with lower IQ scores. A 2012 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology showed the importance of early nutrition and IQ.  "Diet supplies the nutrients needed for the development of brain tissues in the first two years of life, and the aim of this study was to look at what impact diet would have on children's IQs," says Dr. Lisa Smithers, researcher at University of Adelaide Public Health Department. These important nutrients included legumes, cheese, fruits and vegetables. Poor diets reported IQ scores 2 points lower in those children by age 8 who did not receive the nutrients as their peers did. 

So what is the conclusion? Well it should be quite evident...feed your children the right nutrition, one filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish probiotics and fermented foods, as early as you can. Remember guys, WE ARE THE PARENTS, and it is our duty to provide these future generations the best foundations so the can stand on our shoulders, see farther and move further than we ever could. The long-term benefits for our future is worth any of the short-term suffering we might receive from our kids nagging us with sayings like: "But I don't like..." You fill in the blank and stay vigilant!