Introduction to 36 weeks of a person’s life,


Despite the increased focus on overweight and obese children,
almost one in every three American children is overweight or obese. As a
result, many parents are confused as they fail to understand what kinds of
foods should their children eat during their early years and what nutrients are
needed for proper mental and cognitive development. Nutrition is one single and
greatest environmental influence in the growth and development of babies both
while in the mother’s womb and during his/her early years of infancy.
Throughout the first years of life, nutrition plays a critical role in
influencing the mental development of a child. Hence, a properly balanced diet
containing all the nutrient is essential for normal brain growth and
development(Morley & Lucas, 2017).Shortage of
nutrients including iodine and iron may negatively affect the motor and
cognitive development of a child, and this may not be reversed because a child
will be growing despite the lack of these essential nutrients.

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Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is an important fatty
acid is an essential component in the mass production of synapses and which
significantly influences a child’s first years of life, a time which is
critical for mental and cognitive development, and learning. Other nutrients
such as folic acid, choline, zinc, etc. are among the other crucial and most
essential nutrients required by a child for proper mental development and brain
functioning during the early years of life. During the first 20 to 36 weeks of
a person’s life, there is a very rapid brain development and growth, which
continues until 20 months of age. A child’s brain, at birth, has neurons which
are required for life. An infant’s brain at birth is 25% of the adult brain
weight and by the age of 2 years, and child’s brain weight is 75% that of an
adult. Children go through several stages of mental and cognitive development
between birth and the age of 2 years (Jain & Samuel, 2013). There is also rapid
sensory and language development during this age and which is greatly
influenced by mental growth.

Iron and Mental
Development in Children

Although nutrients are essential for brain and mental
development and functioning, certain nutrient intake has a more profound effect
on mental and brain development than others. Iron, for example, is an essential
nutrient for mental development in toddlers and its lack leads to anemia.
Anemia causes a psychomotor delay in children. It refers to a child’s delayed
mental development and proper functioning in which a child’s association with
the surrounding environment is reduced (Engle, Irwin, Klein, Yarbrough, & Townsend, 2009). According to Jain
and Samuel (2013), children who consume iron-rich foods during their first two
years develop increased rate of weight gain and an increased rate of mental
growth and development.

Four studies were conducted to examine iron supplementation
and impacts on school children of different ages and both sexes. According to
the first study which was aimed at examining the impact of iron-folic acid
nutrients and supplements, it was revealed that there were improved total
scores for children with anemia which was significantly higher compared to
those without anemia for children between the ages of 7 and 8. The experiment
was conducted within 60 days involving 94 boys and girls aged between five and
eight years. The second study focused on iron supplements and their effects on
cognition among 14 pairs of anemic boys aged between five and six years. The
experiment was aimed at establishing the beneficial effects of iron supplements
on cognitive and mental development among children with anemia. The third
experiment concentrated on establishing the effects of varying elemental iron
dosages on mental development and functioning in children aged between eight
and fifteen years with various improvement levels. The last study utilized 163
anemic girls to investigate the impacts of iron supplementation within a 4-8-month
period. This study revealed that there was significant improvement in scores in
mental functioning at the end of the eighth month.

Iodine and Mental Development

Conditions of iodine deficiency lead to decreased level of
intelligence, mental and neurologic damage, psychomotor retardation, and
cretinism among others. Studies on preschoolers and infants with iron
deficiency have shown that iron-deficient infants and preschoolers have low
scores of mental development and functioning. Such iron-deficient infants and
preschoolers also showed signs of inattentiveness, increased fearfulness, and
decreased social responsiveness (Morell, 2010).

Iodine deficiency also affects neuro-intellectual development in
children and this damage increases with increased iodine deficiency. During
early pregnancy, maternal hypothyroxinemia is an important factor in the
child’s mental development. While a combined selenium and iodine deficiency
partly helps in preventing neurological damage in children, it precipitates
severe hypothyroidism. Iodine deficiency in children is one of the world’s
largest cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damag