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nutritional and disease ecology 2

nutritional and disease ecology 2 - What does body size and...

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What does body size and composition tell us about health in children? Children are particularly vulnerable to health problems due to their high nutritional requirements, relative immunological immaturity and dependency on adults. They tend to be the most sensitive to changes in their environment and are thus used as a marker for the general quality of the environment in which they live. Body size is a particularly good marker for the health of a child, as it is greatly affected by both infections and malnutrition, generally in the form of wasting and stunting, and can be easily measured. Body composition, although more difficult to attain results for, can also be an accurate marker of health in children. When examined together, body size and composition are very precise indicators of the health of a child, whether there is a mild or severe health problem. It may first be useful to clarify what groups of children have been examined and are most at risk from health problems in a community. The groups most at risk have commonly been divided into 0-1 year olds, and young children aged 1-5 years. In academic circles however, little attention has been paid to the health and behaviour of 5- 15 year olds, but they too should be considered when looking at what body size and composition tell us about health in children since UNICEF classifies childhood as 0-15 years of age (UNICEF, 1996). The quality of the environment a child lives in can often be seen in their physical health attributes, overtly as body size, and internally as body composition (which can have external symptoms). These can be measured to assess the overall health in a child. There are 3 main methods for assessing child health, which include looking into a child’s body size and composition: clinical evaluation, biochemical tests and anthropometric measurements (Panter-Brick, 2008). They each have advantages and disadvantages, but used collectively these methods can show the extent of malnutrition and disease, mild or severe, from both the internal and external manifestations they produce. Clinical evaluation involves assessing an individual for overt signs of illness and disease, and is useful for uncovering gross-malnutrition (Panter-Brick, 2008). Examples 1
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of gross-malnutrition may be night-blindness as a result of lack of vitamin A, energy- malnutrition or severe anaemia. This method however does little to determine milder cases of malnutrition or sub-clinical illness that may not produce overt symptoms. It is also an expensive and rather time-consuming method of assessing large numbers of individual children. Biochemical tests are more sensitive and thus perhaps more accurate, but no single test can determine the extent of malnutrition in an individual (Panter-Brick, 2008). Anthropometric measurements, the most common being height and weight, are the least intrusive of the three methods of health assessment and are relatively quick and easy to conduct. Therefore, they are used to assess large numbers of children in a community.
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