Your little boy or girl seems to be a happy child. He or she is healthy, growing well and doing all the right things children usually do. So, you take a back seat and enjoy watching them grow at their own pace.
But what if your child is not growing at the rate he or she should be for his or her age?
A Wake Up Call
The Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) is becoming increasingly concerned that many Malaysian children, from all family backgrounds, are experiencing growth problems.
MPA President, Associate Prof Dr. Muhammad Yazid Jalaludin said there are some sobering facts about children under five-years-old. The data from the National Health and Morbidity Survey should serve as a wake up call for parents.
“The prevalence of stunting (low height-for-age) increased from 17 per cent in 2006 to 20.7 per cent in 2016. That’s about two in 10 children. Meanwhile, underweight children increased from 12.9 per cent in 2006 to 13.7 per cent in 2016,” Dr. Muhammad said.
Kids from all backgrounds are affected
Such growth problems can develop in poor as well as affluent families. Unfortunately, parents often miss the signs of sluggish growth. They realise only later that their children have failed to achieve their potential. “They may have also become at risk of associated health, developmental and psycho-social issues,” he said.
According to Dr. Muhammad, many factors contribute to growth problems. Among the more prominent factors are children with feeding difficulties and inadequate nutrition (due to poor diet quality). Frequent illness at a young age, underlying chronic disease and certain developmental disorders are also contributing factors.
“Without intervention, these children risk developing long-term health, cognitive and psycho-social issues,” he said.
Doctors to the rescue
Keeping all these factors in mind, the MPA introduced its first concerted childhood growth screening and counselling campaign. They called it the IMFeD Malaysia – ‘Get Growth On Track’ Campaign, in collaboration with Abbott Malaysia.
Through the programme, paediatricians across the nation will evaluate children’s growth by examining their weight and height. This will then be compared to a growth chart.
IMFeD Malaysia chairman Professor Dr Lee Way Seah said the next five years (2018 – 2023) will see the scope expand to include screening and intervention for feeding and nutrition issues.
This is a timely development in light of data that has revealed an alarming prevalence of poor growth in Malaysia.
“It is an alarming situation but the MPA hopes to make a difference.,” said Prof. Lee. Currently, it has deployed the IMFeD expert panel to train over 150 paediatricians all over the country to detect and manage growth problems.
“The expert panel has also produced educational materials containing vital information and tips for parents,” he said.
Parents, early intervention matters
Prof. Lee said parents who are concerned about their children’s growth rate or who want to learn more about this programme should take advantage of it.
Parents can talk to the doctors from participating paediatric clinics about their children’s growth. The doctors would be able to investigate the reasons behind a child’s sub-optimal growth. They can then offer strategies and methods to boost the child’s growth.
If the child has inadequate nutritional intake and where appropriate, the doctor may recommend a complete nutritional supplement. This will help the child catch up and stay on course for optimal growth. There is a limited window of time to correct poor growth and get children back on their potential growth trajectory.
“It is very important that everything is done to help the child catch up to their optimal growth as soon as possible,” said Prof. Lee.
It is also important to continue seeing your doctor regularly to monitor the child’s growth. The doctor would be able to plot the child’s weight and height on the growth chart. Then they will advise parents accordingly if they notice a lag or decline in the child’s growth.
Parents who wish to find out more about the ‘Get Growth On Track’ campaign or locate a paediatrician may contact the IMFeD Malaysia programme secretariat at [email protected]. Telephone: 012-284 1628 or 012-772 1628.