Importance of Nutrition in Brain Development and its Nexus with Socio-Economic Development
Zambia is counted among the least developed countries, with high poverty levels averaging 61.4% at national level. Further, the 2018 Global Hunger Report places Zambia in the “Alarming Hunger Situation” category. This is despite the fact that Zambia is endowed with abundant natural resources such as minerals, fertile land, water, forests and wild life. Human resource is the most important resource in the exploitation of all the other resources for enhancement of quality of life. The human capacity to achieve great things in one’s life time largely depends on the brain. The brain, however, needs to grow and develop, and for this to happen, good nutrition is critical.
Nutrients regulate brain development during foetal and early postnatal life. In particular, the period between 24 and 44 weeks after conception is characterized by a rapid trajectory of several neurologic processes including synapse formation and myelination. The increase in complexity of the brain during this period largely reflects cortical neuronal growth, differentiation, and synaptic connections. Specific nutrients are required for these processes, and these include protein, iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, folate (vitamin B9), vitamin A, choline and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
It is well established that under-nutrition severely affects brain development, both before and during the first few years after birth. The developing brain between 24 and 44 weeks after conception is particularly vulnerable to nutritional insults. Synaptogenesis and myelinisation are particularly sensitive to nutritional insult. The ultimate of under-nourishing the brain is that it affects the cognitive and social behaviour functions of a person. Individuals suffering from severe acute malnutrition during early life show persistent behavioural and cognitive deficits throughout childhood and adolescence, which carry through into adulthood. Thus, under-nutrition in children under the age of 5 threatens the quality of not only their own life, but also the quality of the next generation as a cumulative society.
In order to address the problem of under-nutrition in Zambia, it is recommended that investment be done in awareness campaigns among the population about the nexus between nutrition and socio-economic development. In particular, focus of the campaign should be on the implications of undernutrition of the under-five children and how this affects their future performance to lead a quality life and contribute to socio-economic development of the country. Investment should also be done in the science and technology of agriculture and engineering for enhanced productivity and diversification of food production so that children can have access to nutritious food and balanced diet.