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The concept of energy pie in understanding malnutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life

Posted:  Friday, September 11, 2015

Much has been said and can be said about the first 1000 days of an infant’s life which starts from the time of conception to their 2nd birthday. Termed as the window of opportunity by researchers, nutritional insult during this time could lead to malnutrition and stunting affecting the child dearly. Now, health experts have used the concept of ‘energy pie’ to understand the mechanism of stunting in the first 1000 days.

The concept of energy pie was used by evolutionary biologists as a part of the life history theory. This theory states that each body has an energy pie. The latter determines the amount of energy to be allocated for 3 main functions, namely growth and development; maintenance; and reproduction. Growth refers to physical growth and development of organ systems. Maintenance indicates preserving and repairing the body whereas reproduction refers to puberty, pregnancy and reproduction.

According to experts, factors such as diet composition and quantity; lifestyle; maternal nutrition and genetics determine the size of the energy pie. They also believe that if energy is allotted to only one function, then there is not enough for the other 2 important processes. Basically, the energy pie concept is the body’s way of dividing and prioritising energy distribution among the 3 processes.

Many studies have found that maternal under-nutrition during pregnancy is associated with poor foetal growth and development in the first 1000 days. Applying the energy pie concept, energy is diverted to the development of foetal brain compromising growth resulting in stunting. The remnant energy gets diverted to development of essential organs at the cost of physical growth.

To put it in perspective, the brain takes 60% of the energy allocated to body functions during infancy. This drops to 20% in adulthood. Research has shown how stunting could lead to poor learning and educational achievement throughout life and predispose these infants to metabolic conditions. Hence, experts believe that an infant’s access to health and care, nutrition and its psycho-social care must be improved during this 1000 day window so that the demands of growth, maintenance and reproduction are adequately met.

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