Fight Pneumonia With Good Nutrition

Good Nutrition implies an adequate and well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity. It is the cornerstone of good health and the key to improving a child’s natural defenses, and hence one of the most effective measures in preventing pneumonia. Besides, it also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child does become ill. Good health and hygiene are the two facets of nutrition which help in building early immunity of the child by boosting the immune system. Nutrition relies on 'which' food and 'how much' food is required by the child.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the biggest intervention against pneumonia is good nutrition. Every infant and child has a right to good nutrition as per the Convention of 'Rights of the Child'. Keeping in mind the importance of nutrition, the Health Assembly in May 2010 adopted a resolution on infant and young child nutrition, to expedite the implementation of the global strategy on infant and young child feeding. People with adequate nutrition are more productive and can create opportunities to gradually break the cycles of poverty and hunger. Hence nutrition is indispensable to a healthy life.
According to Dr. Y.C. Govil, Professor of Paediatrics in Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University, “Good nutrition for children below 5 years of age should be exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months, and then gradual weaning by starting complementary food like cereals, mashed papaya, banana etc. As the child grows, all types of household diets must be added with some butter and ghee also, so that dense calories can be provided." 

 It is a very popular notion that good nutrition has to be expensive. Dr. Vijaya Mohan (Consultant Pediatrician, Vivekananda Polyclinic and Institute of Medical Sciences) says, "Good nutrition can be derived from common household items   like cereals, pulses which are highly rich in protein. The only thing one should know is how to prepare them well i.e. hygienically and more nutritiously.”

One cannot define nutrition in variant degrees-- if it is not good it will certainly be bad. Bad nutrition is such that either it leads the child to become overweight or underweight. Dr Govil says that, "Bad Nutrition is one extreme for affluent families, where kids are fond of junk food, which overfill them with calories; and at the other extreme are families with poor socio-economic status who are forced to dilute milk and other food, which deprives them of the nutrient values." 

Both these conditions are equally harmful for a child. According to estimates, approximately 46% children under 5 suffer from malnourishment, inadequate hygiene and sanitation in most developing countries. This is primarily the reason that in tropical countries deaths due to pneumonia are particularly high. Lack of food and hygienic conditions contributes to 44% of deaths from pneumonia in children. A key indicator of chronic malnutrition is stunting. Globally, 30% (or 186 million) of children under five are estimated to be stunted and 18% (or 115 million) have low weight-for-height, mostly as a consequence of poor feeding and repeated infections and unhygienic environment. Stunting rates among children are highest in Africa and Asia. Wasting is a severe form of malnutrition - resulting from acute food shortages and compounded by illnesses. Rising food prices, food scarcity in areas of conflict, and natural disasters diminish household access to appropriate and adequate food. If a child is under nourished then susceptibility to infections is increased and the defense mechanism is impaired, inviting many diseases including pneumonia. Maternal under nutrition, common in many developing countries, leads to poor foetal development. About 13 million children are either born premature or with low birth weight. Low birth weight children have approximately three times higher risk of mortality and of being malnourished in future. So the nourishment of mothers should also be looked into. If we pay attention to the nutrition of women right from their adolescence this vicious cycle of malnutrition can be broken. A well nourished mother is likely to give birth to a healthy child, thus reducing the chances of pneumonia and other diseases in infants.

Hygiene helps nutrition in preventing pneumonia. According to Dr.Jyotsna Mehta (Practicing Gynecologist & Obstetrician-at Sahani and City Hospital)," Simple hygiene practices, like hand washing, in the post delivery period can reduce the risk of infections."

Two key measures recommended by WHO and UNICEF to improve child survival are hand-hygiene and respiratory etiquette. Transmission of community-acquired Acute Respiratory Infections occurs most commonly through inhalation of respiratory droplets produced by talking, coughing, spitting and sneezing. Coughs and sneezes should be covered with a tissue, cloth or mask. Hand-hygiene prevents the spread of common communicable diseases during coughing or sneezing. Proper sanitation, especially in developing countries where houses are overcrowded and not well ventilated, also helps in killing the disease germs. Hence following these simple remedies of hygiene will certainly decrease the risk of childhood pneumonia.

Shikha Srivastava - CNS