Poor nutrition in pregnancy may reduce children’s IQ —Nutritionist
The President, Federation of African Nutrition Societies, Prof. Ngozi Nnam, has said that inadequate nutrition all through pregnancy has a devastating impact on the brain development of babies.
According to the nutritionist, a lack of appropriate and adequate nutrition during pregnancy often leads to poor brain development and causes a 13.5 per cent reduction in the intelligence quotient of a child.
Prof. Nnam disclosed this during an exclusive interview
The nutritionist also warned that gaps in the brain development of babies in the first 1,000 days of life are irreversible.
The first 1,000 days refer to a child’s life from the moment they are conceived until they reach two years of age.
Nnam, a professor of Community and Public Health Nutrition at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, says a pregnant woman is supposed to feed well and have an adequate diet at all times for optimal development of the foetus.
The don explained, “If the brain did not form well and you are using all possible means to teach the child, the child will not conceptualise because the brain needs certain nutrients to develop well so that you don’t have gaps.
“What I mean is that, from conception up until the second birthday of a child, that is the rapid period of brain development and all the nutrients are required to be supplied in adequate amounts for the brain to utilise it to develop well.
“Some of these nutrients are iron, iodine, protein, magnesium, zinc, Omega 3 fatty acids, folate, and most micronutrients are needed for the brain to develop well.
“If the woman during pregnancy is not getting enough iron, the cells that will form the brain cells will not form well. If the woman is not getting enough iodine, then the nerves will not form well, so you have gaps.”
The nutritionist identified poor brain development as one of the factors responsible for poor academic performance in children.
Continuing, Prof. Nnam said, “The brain cells will not close up, you have gaps because what nature does is that each part of the brain is responsible for certain activities and they develop differently.
“So, if it is part of the brain that is responsible for problem-solving like mathematics that is developing when the woman does not have enough iron and iodine during pregnancy, then that part of the brain will not develop well.
“Even after delivery, if you don’t supply the baby enough of these iron and iodine, then that part of the brain will not develop well. Then you have what we call a gap and what nature will do is jump the development of that part of the brain and go to another part. Maybe, when it goes to another part, the nutrients are there for that other part to develop.
“So, you might see a child whenever it comes to mathematics, that child is not doing well but when it comes to things like reading, the child will read well. Then, you will be wondering what is happening.
“What is happening is that during the development of the brain, during the Intrauterine period and the first two years, at the point of the development of the brain that is responsible for problem-solving, the baby did not get enough iron or iodine. So, you have gaps and nature will just jump that area and go to another area.”
The researcher noted that a lot of mothers do not know that their nutrition during pregnancy greatly affects the outcome of the pregnancy.
Nnam, who is a past president of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, says there is much emphasis on adequate nutrition in pregnancy because 70 per cent of brain development takes place during pregnancy.
“There are many things that are not obvious. When you go for antenatal checks, you don’t notice them. The doctor will check and check and tell you that everything is okay. But the doctor does not know that the cells are not forming well and there are gaps in the brain.
“What is so worrisome about the whole issue is that it is irreversible. As far as that area of brain development does not get enough nutrients for that area to develop well and there is a gap, the development will jump to the next stage and that gap cannot be reversed.
“So, it is irreversible and this causes the damage of 13.5 per cent reductions in the IQ of that child. So, you can now understand the harm and it is irreversible.
“No matter how educated you turn out to be as a mother and you now realise that nutrients are required for proper development and you start pumping it into the child, the harm has been done and you cannot reverse it again and the IQ has been decreased by 13. 5 per cent. You can imagine the disadvantage the child is passing through,” the nutrition expert noted.
She stressed that nutrition plays a critical role in the first 1,000 days of the life of a child, urging pregnant women not to joke with their diets.
The don also urged them to embrace exclusive breastfeeding.
In a 2022 study published by PubMed Central journal, the researchers said academic performance could be affected by malnutrition.
“Malnutrition is the main factor for poor academic performance and contributed to the development of other factors. Studies showed that malnutrition among school-age children is a risk factor for high absenteeism, early dropouts, low school enrollment, and unsatisfactory classroom performance.
“Malnutrition in any of its forms is a significant public health problem. Globally, 29.8 per cent of school-age children have insufficient iodine intake. In Africa, the prevalence of iodine deficiency among school-age children is 39.3 per cent,” the researchers said.