Do you know that height is one of the critical growth indicators amongst children? That’s right, your children’s height can tell you a lot of things, one of them is the state of their health.
The study of heights has a long-standing in genetics, which only determines 20%¹ of the children’s height.
However, parents should not discount the fact that the environmental factors — such as proper nutrition and exercise, can play a pivotal role to ensure children can grow taller and healthier, especially during their critical development period.
The Ministry of Health Malaysia has launched awareness campaigns to prevent help stunting amongst Malaysian children.
The campaigns promote the importance of proper nutrition, as well as the effects of stunting on children. Be it health, education, and productivity; the stunting phenomenon can consequently harm Malaysia’s social and economic development.
Stunting in Malaysian: The Case Study
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, the rate of stunting in Malaysian has increased as the study found that 1 in 5 Malaysian children under the age of five is stunted2; the stunting prevalence in Thailand and Ghana is at 10.5% and 18.8%3 respectively, which is a stark contrast to the condition of stunting in Malaysia, which is at 21.9%.
Stunting is worse in lower-income households; however, it is still broadly prevalent across all income levels in Malaysia.
The prevalence of stunting in families with income higher than RM6,000 is 15.1%, which is considerably higher than the 6.9% benchmark of upper-middle-income countries4.
Conclusively, Malaysia has a stunting problem, and parents should take the necessary steps to help their children to be able to grow taller and healthier.
Read more: Identifying children with high IQ: An age-by-age guide for parents
Aside from genetics, nutrition plays a vital role in assisting children’s growth and development, as balanced and sufficient nutrition can influence one’s height a lot. As parents, it is crucial to keep tabs on the required nutrients to ensure your children can grow optimally.
Complete Nutrients Is The Key
Some of the key nutrients are the 9 Essential Amino Acids (9 EAAs), which consist of taurine, L-isoleucine, L-leucine, L-lysine, L-methionine, L-phenylalanine, L-threonine, L-tryptophan, and L-valine; and they are the building blocks in protein for bones and muscle growth5.
Additionally, these essential amino acids cannot be produced naturally by our body; hence, we need to get them from dietary sources.
Apart from the 9 Essential Amino Acids, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — an omega-3 fatty acid that can be found naturally in oily fish and some seaweed, is also crucial for your children’s brain and eye development6.
Ensuring your children get the required macromineral — calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, and micromineral — iron, zinc, iodine, selenium and copper, is necessary as well7.
Alongside these minerals, your children should also consume sufficient amounts of Vitamins — fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D3, E, and K) and water-soluble vitamins (Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, and folic acid), to ensure proper body functions and development, especially during the early childhood period8.
Based on the findings by the South East Asian Nutrition Surveys (SEANUTS), the study revealed that 1 out of 2 Malaysian children did not achieve the Recommended Nutrients Intakes (RNI) for Calcium and Vitamin D9.
An easy way to address sufficient nutritional intake is through dairy consumption, as the study found that the percentage of stunted and underweight children who consume dairy daily is lower compared to the children who did not drink milk every day10.
Though there may be a large variety of milk that are currently available in the market, it’s best to choose nutrient-dense milk to ensure your children get the much-needed nutrients for optimum growth.
Encourage Healthy Lifestyle
Growing taller and healthier is not just about what the child eats; an active lifestyle is important too. Sedentary lifestyle amongst children has been an alarming concern in Malaysia, especially with the rising use of mobile devices.
According to Active Healthy Kids 2016 report card, on a scale of A for excellent to F for failing, Malaysia scored D for overall physical activity, active transportation and sedentary behaviour11. Keeping your children active will not just start a good habit but will also help prevent sedentary-lifestyle-related health risks.
Ultimately, the best way to be sure if your children are growing on track is to measure their height consistently. Tracking their growth progress will help parents to identify problems before they become permanent.
Try to make it into a fun activity for you and your children; this will encourage them to aim high for their wellness sake. As parents, we should help our children reach for their ambitions to grow taller and healthier through proper nutrition, active lifestyle and growth measuring.
This article was written by Dr Azam Mohd Nor and has been published with permission
¹ Jelenkovic, A. et al. Genetic and environmental influences on height from infancy to early adulthood: An individual-based pooled analysis of 45 twin cohorts. Sci. Rep. 6, 28496; doi: 10. 1038/srep28496 (2016)
2 National Morbidity Survey 2019 https://www.iku.gov.my/nhms-2019
3 The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World www.fao.org/3/ca5162en/ca5162en.pdf
4 Stunting in Malaysia: Costs, Causes & Courses for Action https://jci.edu.my/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/JCI-JSC-WP-2019-01-Stunting-in-Malaysia.pdf
5 Amino acids: metabolism, functions, and nutrition https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19301095/
6 The Relationship of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) with Learning and Behavior in Healthy Children: A Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738999/
7 Minerals https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/minerals.html
8 Vitamins https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/vitamin.html
9 Nutritional status and dietary intakes of children aged 6 months to 12 years: findings of the Nutrition Survey of Malaysian Children (SEANUTS Malaysia) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/05bb/4de1e68096ef84fcac60083a57b5ad6867cb.pdf?_ga=2.115456070.1595186782.1606355175-1976471054.1606355175
10 The Consumption of Dairy and Its Association with Nutritional Status in the South East Asian Nutrition Surveys (SEANUTS) www.researchgate.net/publication/325749202_The_Consumption_of_Dairy_and_Its_Association_with_Nutritional_Status_in_the_South_East_Asian_Nutrition_Surveys_SEANUTS
11 Active Healthy Kids 2016 report card https://activehealthykids.org.my/content/MAHK%20Short%20Form%202016%20-%20English%20version.pdf