Malnutrition, obesity and nutritional risk were identified in 44% of paediatric admissions to a sample of tertiary paediatric and regional hospitals during a one-day snap shot of Australian paediatric admissions in 2015.
In 1995, it was estimated that about 20% of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory suffered from malnutrition. Without more robust data, it is hard to know whether this situation has changed in the intervening 21 years.
Growing up without access to affordable, healthy food to eat – being food insecure – is not just bad for the health of a child, it also affects their growth and development. If food insecurity persists, it affects all aspects of the child’s schooling, setting children up for a poor life trajectory.
Professor Kerry Arabena, Chair of Indigenous Health at the University of Melbourne, leads the First 1000 Days Australia project. She argues that the 1000 days from conception up until a child turns two are critical days to ensure every child has the basic building blocks they need for success at school and throughout life. And the findings of the report Food Insecurity and Health in Rural and Remote Australia support this.
The events and conditions that exist in these first 1000 days up until a child turns two have a significant impact on the way a child develops. This means the health and wellbeing of the mother before she becomes pregnant and during pregnancy is crucial in giving children the best start in life.
Where conditions are optimal, the mother and child have the best possible situation for a healthy pregnancy resulting in a normal birthweight baby that will reach its healthy growth and development marks.
International studies show that children who are malnourished in the first year of life have impaired growth, lower IQs and poor scholastic achievement.
But this doesn’t have to be. A second International study that has been following a group of children into adulthood showed that the potentially poor health, education and life outcomes can be addressed with early, ongoing, nutritional support through better diet and vitamin/mineral supplements.
Children offered such ongoing support to their diet had higher rates of schooling completion, better reading comprehension, higher IQ test results and earned higher wages. And their risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease was also reduced.
With such results, supporting better diets for rural and remote mothers and young children makes sense.