Children’s health is the foundation of all growth and development. Children’s health is all encompassing and is assessed beyond physical growth to other important aspects of children’s health which include their cognitive (learning and thinking) development, social and emotional growth, and mental health. All these aspects of health and development work together to form a child’s overall well-being.
Children are vulnerable beings, who are more at risk of illness and health complications.
At every step of their physical and mental development, children have specific needs and different health risks.
What is different about children’s health?
People erroneously refer to children as small adults and so generally assume their health issues are just the same as adults but in little quantities. Nothing could be further from the truth than this notion. Children are unique individuals who have slightly different physiology and react to issues in ways different from adults. Examples are:
From childbirth, new-born children unlike adults are heavily dependent on their mothers for survival. They cannot achieve adequate body warmth, and feeding, bonding, social skills without the mother. Thus children whose mothers die or are abandoned at birth have less chances of survival and adjustment than children with living mothers.
Within the first month of life, children are prone to a lot of infections. Their immune system, digestive system, and cardiovascular system are all not fully mature and functional. This makes it easy for them to have infections and impairs their ability to effectively fight infections.
As a consequence of these differences between children and adults, there is a special need to address children’s health specially and paediatricians are doctors who specialize in children’s health.
Why is child health important?
Children born after healthy pregnancy period to a relaxed mother who had adequate nutrition and good antenatal care will most likely have less health issues in his/her later life. Maternal behaviors such as smoking and alcoholism can lead to the birth of very unhealthy children prone to chronic diseases and impaired brain development.
Birth events that cause asphyxiation (poor oxygen supply to the brain) of the child during birth like prolonged and obstructed labor can lead to a condition called cerebral palsy which can severely restrict the growth, development, and life expectancy of the child.
The health and social environment of a child during the first 2 years (approx. 1000 days) also determines how healthy and socially adjusted a child will grow up to be. For example children who suffer from malnutrition and some micro nutrient deficiencies with resulting growth restriction during this period are less likely to attain their full physical, and intellectual potential in adulthood.
Research also states that the weight of a child during birth affects their risk of developing chronic diseases, children with low birth weight are more likely to have elevated blood pressure and diabetes mellitus later in life.
The quality of health of a child during infancy and early childhood greatly affects the risk of the child developing chronic illnesses like diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and immune related diseases in later life. This is particularly true in obese children.
Therefore, the health events that happen during childhood greatly determine or shape what kind of health the adult will have, thus, when children are spared from disease, they can grow into healthy adults, and in this way, contribute to the development of dynamic and productive societies.