Eating Healthy

Encouraging young people and their families to eat healthy foods

There are a number of illnesses and diseases that result from a poor diet. In this section of the course we shall concentrate on helping students grow and eat healthy foods.

We begin by looking at some diseases that arise because of poor diet.

Preventing Vitamin A Deficiency

What is Vitamin A Deficiency?

Vitamins are present in food. There are lots of different types of vitamins and the body needs them if it is to grow and work properly. Vitamin A is a very important one. Some foods have a lot of Vitamin A in them, whilst others don’t. If someone’s body does not have enough Vitamin A, we say that they are Vitamin A deficient. This happens if the person doesn’t eat enough of the foods with lots of Vitamin A, which the body needs. This is most likely to happen in children, because their bodies are growing fast.

Why is Vitamin A deficiency dangerous?

Vitamin A deficiency is dangerous because it makes children’s bodies less able to fight off illnesses, such as diarrhoea and measles. Children with Vitamin A deficiency are more likely to become ill if they get one of the three most common illnesses and it may even kill the child.

It is possible to be Vitamin A deficient without knowing it, so it is very important that everyone, especially children, eat plenty of the foods which contain a lot of Vitamin A. Severe Vitamin A deficiency can damage eyes and can cause permanent blindness if the child’s body has very little Vitamin A.

What foods contain a lot of Vitamin A?

Breast milk contains lots of Vitamin A. Although children become too old to receive milk from their mother it is essential that they appreciate the advantages such a natural food will give their younger brothers and sisters. Young girls, who will one day, become mothers’ need to know the benefits of feeding their children naturally. It is best for any child if they can receive milk from their mother for at least the first six to nine months of the life.

ALL dark green leaves contain Vitamin A, so do most yellow, orange or red fruits and vegetables. So, try to feed young children as much:

    • red palm oil

    • mangoes

    • papayas/pawpaw

    • yellow sweet potatoes

    • liver

    • the yolk of eggs

ALL of these contain good supplies of Vitamin A. An exercise that helps young people remember where they can get Vitamin A is to ask them to draw and name the fruits and vegetables they should eat.

How do we know if we have Vitamin A deficiency?

Even when we are in a darkened room most of us can see something A person suffering from NIGHT BLINDNESS will not be able to see anything. They will bump into things and will not be able to see even an essential thing such as a plate of food.

The same will happen at night, when most people can see enough to walk around by the light of the moon and the stars, but the night blind child will not be able to see where they are going. Vitamin A deficiency is not always bad enough to cause night blindness and some children have no easy way of knowing that they have night blindness. An example of this would be a very young child who is not yet able to walk. They have what is known as ‘hidden vitamin A deficiency’. They are still more likely to become ill from common illnesses such as diarrhoea, a cough or a fever. They need to eat more food with lots of vitamin A and might be helped by being given tablets with vitamin A in them.

Sometimes when a health visitor visits a village or community to see whether s lot of people have ‘hidden vitamin A deficiency’ they will need to test their blood to see how much vitamin A is in it does this. If a lot of children have ‘hidden vitamin A deficiency’, then the health worker will give all the children medicines with vitamin A in them every 4 to 6 months and tell them to eat more foods with vitamin A in them.

To come

What can we do to stop Vitamin A deficiency?

What do you do if you have limited supplies of food with Vitamin A in it?

What can we do for people with night blindness?

Some games to play to encourage Vitamin A awareness amongst the young.

What can we do to stop Vitamin A Deficiency?

In very young children Vitamin A encouraging mothers to breast-feed their babies best prevents deficiency. Even as they begin to switch to soft food it is wise to introduce them to fruits and porridge. Whenever possible the child should be fed soft fruits, for they contain Vitamin A.

Older children and adults should include foods in their diets that contain Vitamin A. these include:

    • green leaves

    • red palm oil

    • mangoes,

    • pawpaw

    • yellow sweet potato

    • egg yolks

    • liver

To help provide these essential foodstuffs why not encourage young people to help develop a small family garden. This could be encouraged at community level as well. During the drier seasons it is essential that plants are watered and this is the perfect job for younger members of the family/community. If water is in short supply then use some that has already been used, say for washing or preparing food. Gardening can be fun and it helps everyone to avoid the problems associated with Vitamin A Deficiency.

What to do if you have no food with Vitamin A in it

If your food does not provide you with very much Vitamin A then you can use medicines that do. In areas where Vitamin A deficiency is quite common the health authorities sometimes provide these medicines free of charge. The medicine is normally an oily liquid that in given my spoon, or in some cases by tablet. Each dose is given at about 4 to 6 monthly intervals. If children and young people take this average dosage then they should remain free of the problems that are associated with Vitamin A deficiency.

What can we do to help people with Night Blindness

Any child who has the symptoms of night blindness must be taken to see a health worker as soon as possible. They should also be given as many foods with Vitamin A in them as possible.

Children should be encouraged not to be frightened by night blindness. It is not the result of bad behaviour by anyone in his or her family. Those children with good sight can help they’re less fortunate peers by carrying out surveys of who is suffering and where they live. This information will be very useful to health workers. The surveys need not be huge in size, for on average if one child in every hundred has signs of night blindness then Vitamin A deficiency exits in that community. A more sensitive issue but one which can have enormous benefits is to enquire how young babies are fed. Obviously other pressures exist that causes mothers to switch to artificial feeding but a sensible discussion on the plus points of breast feeding can assist both the current generation of young babies and those yet to be conceived. If such a survey discovers that less than half of the young babies are being breast fed then experience suggests that Vitamin A deficiency probably exists amongst the youngest members of the community. Such a discovery provides an excellent opportunity for those foods that do contain Vitamin A to be publicised to mothers.

Within school children can also be encouraged to:

    • play pretend games to discover what it is like to blind

    • design posters showing those foods that contain Vitamin A

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    • compose songs or poems that tell of the benefits of certain foods

Vitamin A deficiency is a terrible illness to suffer from, yet with care, attention and knowledge its dreadful impact can be reduced.

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