Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

The child’s body requires a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals that play a crucial role in optimal development and preventing nutritional diseases. We refer to these nutrients as micronutrients. The body doesn’t produce these micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals naturally; therefore, children need to get them from their diet. In this blog, we will gloss over the most common nutritional deficiencies in kids and ways to rectify them.

What is Nutritional Deficiency in Kids?

A nutrient deficiency, also known as malnutrition in kids, occurs when a child has an inadequate intake of the necessary amount of nutrients. They can also occur when the body doesn’t absorb a specific nutrient properly.

Children with nutritional deficiency fail to reach their full potential and suffer from numerous health problems including stunted growth, digestive issues, skin problems, and poor bone development. Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids can occur in children of all ages, but young children are the most vulnerable.

Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

The most common nutrient deficiencies in children include calcium, iron, vitamin D, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium.

1. Calcium Deficiency, one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in kids

Calcium is a mineral that supports your child’s bone growth, heart health, and nerve and muscle functioning. A child who consumes adequate calcium in childhood will set the stage for developing strong bones and teeth, well into adulthood.

Health Problems Linked to Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is a signalling molecule, so a deficiency can cause problems with your child’s heart, nerves, and muscles. Rickets in children and osteoporosis in the elderly are two prevalent forms of calcium deficiency that cause weaker and more fragile bones.

Dietary Sources of Calcium

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

Here are some of the calcium-rich foods that you should include in the diet: 

  • Milk and dairy products like cheese and yoghurt
  • Drumstick leaves
  • Fish like salmon, sardines, and catfish
  • Vegetables like cabbage, mustard, broccoli, lady’s finger
  • Seeds like poppy, chia and sesame
  • Almonds
  • Lotus seeds
  • Amaranth
  • Ragi

Looking for sources of Calcium for your kid who does not drink milk? Read here!

2. Iron Deficiency, a major nutritional deficiencies in kids

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in kids. It is more common in school-aged children and toddlers who have weaned from breast milk.

Your child requires iron for numerous bodily functions. Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It also aids in the production of RBCs.

Health Problems Linked to Iron Deficiency

Anemia is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in kids. The common symptoms of anemia include pale skin, fatigue, weakness and tiredness, poor appetite, craving for strange things like ice, dirt and paint, slower growth and development, behavioral issues, and frequent infection.

Dietary Sources of Iron

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

The best sources of iron are listed below:

  • Red meat
  • Shellfish
  • Organ meat
  • Sardines
  • Beans
  • Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale
  • Seeds like pumpkin, sesame, flax and hemp
  • Dried fruits like raisins, prunes and apricot
  • Fruits like apple, pear and pomegranate 
  • Legumes

3. A Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids: Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts in the body like a steroid hormone and is produced on exposure to sunlight. It is essential for the absorption of a variety of nutrients including calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and phosphate. 

It mainly aids in calcium absorption and helps in the formation of strong bones and teeth. Adequate vitamin D intake is necessary for a robust immune system, and heart health.

Health Problems Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency

The deficiency of vitamin D prevents the absorption of calcium in the body. Calcium deficiency causes disorders, such as rickets, osteoporosis, certain types of malignancies and lowered immunity. It may also cause growth delay, and bone loss and there is an increased risk of fractures.

Dietary Sources of Vitamin D

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

Sunlight is the natural source of Vitamin D. However, other dietary sources of vitamin D are:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines
  • Egg yolk
  • Banana 
  • Milk and milk products
  • Fortified cereals
  • Mushroom
  • Ragi

4. Zinc Deficiency

Zinc is an important mineral for healthy growth, strong immunity, sex hormone development, cognitive functioning, and healthy digestion in children. It’s deficiency can have an adverse effect on your child’s hair, skin, and nails, as well as his or her cognitive function and height.

Health Problems Linked to Zinc Deficiency

Loss of appetite and decreased growth and development in babies and children are early signs of zinc deficiency. They may be angry and sluggish. The immune system of the body may be compromised, causing wounds to heal more slowly and incompletely.

Dietary Sources of Zinc

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

The sources of zinc include:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Grains such as amaranth, oats, wheat
  • Fruits such as avocado, berries
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts

5. Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is an important nutrient needed for the production of red blood cells and to sustain healthy cognitive development, enhanced immunity, and converting food into energy. A B12 deficiency is sometimes seen in children who are on plant-based diets with no extra supplementation of vitamin B12, as plant-based foods are poor sources of vitamin B12.

Health Problems Linked to Vitamin B12 Deficiency

A vitamin B12 deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia. The diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies of Vitamin B12 can also lead to several symptoms including weakness, exhaustion, constipation, a decreased appetite, and weight. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also show negative effects on the nervous system and symptoms such as confusion, depression and dementia. 

Dietary Sources of Vitamin B12

The sources of Vitamin B12 include:

  • Dairy products
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Beef liver
  • Fortified cereals
  • Eggs

6. Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that aids in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin, teeth, bones, and cell membranes. Also, it creates eye pigments, which are essential for vision. For Vitamin A to travel to the required parts of the body, like the retina at the back of the eye, it has to partner with another mineral- Zinc.

Health Problems Linked to Vitamin A Deficiency

A lack of vitamin A or vitamin A deficiency can cause both acute and chronic eye damage, leading to blindness. Vitamin A deficiency can also weaken the immune system and increase mortality, especially in children and women who are pregnant or lactating.

Dietary Sources of Vitamin A

The dietary sources of vitamin A are:

  • Organ meat
  • Fish liver oil
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrot
  • Mangoes
  • Apricot
  • Green leafy vegetables

7. Potassium Deficiency

Potassium is an important mineral that supports many of your child’s bodily functions and developmental needs. These include building muscle, supporting optimal growth, ensuring proper functioning of the nerve cells, and regulating body acid and water.

Health Problems linked to Potassium Deficiency

Insufficient potassium intake can increase blood pressure, kidney stone risk, bone turnover, urinary calcium excretion, and salt sensitivity (meaning that changes in sodium intake affect blood pressure to a greater than normal extent).

Severe potassium deficiency can cause hypokalemia, which can be life-threatening because of its effects on muscle contraction and cardiac function.

Dietary Sources of Potassium

The dietary sources of potassium are:

  • Bananas
  • White beans
  • Black beans
  • Edamame
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe
  • Apricots
  • Honeydew
  • Grapefruit
  • Dried fruits such as prunes, raisins and dates

8. Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium is an important mineral in the human body. It’s not only important for bone and tooth structure but it’s also involved in over 300 enzyme processes such as muscle contraction, heart rhythm, protein production, blood pressure control, making DNA, etc.

Health Problems Linked to Magnesium Deficiency

The diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies of magnesium include type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Abnormal heart rhythm, muscular cramps, restless leg syndrome, tiredness, and headaches are the most common magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Dietary Sources of Magnesium

The sources of magnesium include:

  • Whole grains
  • Nuts like almonds and cashews
  • Dark chocolate
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Seeds like flaxseed and pumpkin seed
  • Black beans, edamame and lima beans
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach

10 Signs of Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

Nutritional deficiencies in children can hamper their overall development and growth. These occur when the body is unable to absorb the basic essential nutrients from the diet. This may lead to abnormalities in physical growth and psychological development.

Here are the 10 signs of common nutritional deficiencies in kids:

1. Restlessness or Hyperactivity

Research shows a strong correlation between hyperactivity and poor digestion. Poor digestion leads to your child’s body not absorbing all the nutrients he is eating. 

2. Delayed Speech

Speech delay in children could be a result of hereditary. But children with vitamin B12 deficiency are observed to have a speech delay.

3. Depression or Anxiety

Proteins contain amino acids which aid the proper functioning of the brain. Hence, a lack of protein-rich foods in your child’s diet could lead to depression or anxiety.

4. Dry Skin or Hair

Dry skin or hair in children indicates a deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K2. Consider adding high-quality fat-soluble vitamins to your child’s diet.

5. Crowded Teeth

Recent studies have shown nutritional deficiency could lead to poor dental spacing. Children who ate food containing rich fats, animal protein and properly cooked carbohydrates, had enough spacing in teeth and also had fewer problems when wisdom teeth erupted.

6. Dental Cavities

Parents often blame candies and excess sugary products for dental cavities in children, but it occurs mostly due to a lack of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins in their diet.

7. Low Immunity or Frequent Colds & Flu

Many children fall sick very often due to their weaker immune systems. Making healthy changes in kids’ diet boosts immunity and prevents frequent illness in kids. Try to focus on providing all nutrients through food to your child by introducing the traditional way of cooking and choice of foods.

Here is a list of immunity boosting foods you can give to your kid!

8. Low Energy Level or Lethargy

Just like hyperactivity is a sign of bad nutrition, so is low energy level. Kids who have iron deficiency are known to lack stamina, get tired easily and have a foggy brain.

9. Pain in Legs

A calcium deficiency is often apparent during bedtime. This is because at this time your child’s body slows down. The child gets anxious, finds it hard to sleep and experiences growing pain in the legs. 

10. Obesity

If your child is not eating nutritious food, then the body becomes hungry for more as it has not got the required nutrition. This will trigger hunger pangs and your child wants to eat again. If the food consumed again is not nutritious, then the same cycle continues. However, surprising it may seem but nutritional deficiency leads to obesity. 

Causes of Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

1. Nutritional Deficiency in Mother

The deficiency of different kinds of nutrients in the mother during pregnancy can have various effects on the newborn’s brain development and overall health. For example, if the mother lacks Vitamin D then it could result in abnormal bone growth in the child, and deficiency of omega 3 can lead to low birth weight.

2. Dietary Patterns

Poor food intake, unhealthy eating habits, frequent/chronic illness and picky eating behaviour can lead to nutritional deficiency in toddlers. Nutritional deficiency affects millions of children under 5 years of age globally by delaying their growth, weakening their immune systems and impairing their brain development.

3. Chronic illnesses and Diseases

Nutritional deficiency is not just something that is caused due to lack of proper nutrients or the inability of the body to absorb the nutrients from the food but can be the result of various chronic illnesses and diseases.

Prevention Tips to Avoid Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids

Following some healthy practices to prevent the disease is better than facing the consequences and the complications of the disease. Here are some prevention tips to avoid nutritional deficiencies in your child:

  • Good nutrition and physical activity are important for any child to achieve the right growth. Micronutrients, though required in small amounts, are essential for the proper growth and development of the human body.
  • Children need to consume sufficient calories and key nutrients that aid in childhood growth and development. An ideal meal should incorporate items from each different food group such as grains, protein, dairy, and fruits and vegetables. For children who have trouble getting the right nutrition through food alone, nutritional supplements can help.
  • Parents and caregivers should continually assess their child’s growth and speak with a healthcare professional if they believe their child is falling behind. If nutrition intervention is needed, parents can help by making nutritious foods more available to their children.


Good nutrition is essential during childhood, as it is a time of rapid growth, development, and activity. Teaching children the importance of nutrition can help establish a foundation for healthy eating habits and nutritional knowledge that they can apply in their later years.

A well-balanced diet is all it takes to ensure your child is getting the necessary nutrients they need to prevent a nutritional deficiency. However, there are cases in which a dietary supplement may be considered to prevent a nutrient deficiency from becoming a nutritional disease.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your child’s nutritional status, and you suspect they may have a nutritional deficiency.

Read more about nutritional deficiencies in kids here.


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