Hyderabad: Busting the popular myth, researchers now argue
that children, who are ill, should be given all types of healthy food
and in more quantity for quick recovery from disease.
“Disease consumes calories. Food restriction in illness leads to
calorie deprivation and malnutrition, with frequent illnesses.
Malnutrition causes mucosal damage and lowers immunity, leading to a
vicious cycle of infection and malnutrition,” clarifies senior
researcher Dr Asha D Benakappa, who led a research study on the myths
associated with diet during childhood illness.
The department of paediatrics, Bangalore Medical College and Research
Institute, collected data on the food myths among child caregivers
belonging to different religious communities and social strata. The
researchers from the Institute led by Dr Asha found that even educated
parents and doctors followed food myths and deprived the ill child of
the much-needed nutrition to recover from illness and boost the
immunity. The concept of “hot” and “cold’ food is a popular myth.
“Fifty per cent to 70 per cent of the burden of childhood diarrhea and
respiratory infections is attributable to undernutrition. It is
compounded by food restriction during illness due to false beliefs. In
the long run, it decreases the child's productivity, which is an
obstacle to sustainable socioeconomic development,” she told this
The research study suggested that when a child is recovering, an extra
meal for two weeks is needed. A child’s illness is a crucial moment
for counselling of child feeding. In case of diarrhoea, a child needs
more protein that is animal. It is a myth that non-vegetarian food
should not be given to ill children, particularly when they are
suffering from diarrhoea. The animal protein is relatively better than
protein from vegetable sources.
Any rise in body temperature (fever) means consumption of more
calories. On one hand, the disease consumes calories and on the other,
the child is deprived of the required calories thanks to food myths.
This in other words means double deprivation of energy, which leads to
“Caregivers believe that a child must be fed less during illness.
Educational status did not play a role in maintaining beliefs, but
elders and religion did. Doctors too were responsible for unwanted
dietary restrictions,” she said.
Some of the myths about food include only idlis, rice and bread are
good for respiratory illness; idlis and rice along with milk and
buttermilk in case of gastroenteritis, and idlis and biscuits in case
of fever and small skin infections (Pyoderma). It is also a myth that
eating sprouted seeds leads to cold; sugar causes cough in infants;
and milk causes vomiting, jamoon (black plum) decreases diarrhea, holy
water cures measles, milk and sugar produce worms in the gut, biscuits
increase sputum during illness, and undiluted milk forms clots and
blocks the gut.
Dr Asha warned that if food is limited during illness, the child could
suffer from severe malnutrition with repeated illnesses. Eighty
percent of the nutrition-related mortality is associated with a mild
form of malnutrition, according to the WHO reports.
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