Can nutrition deficiency be linked to a child’s behaviour?

The simple truth: you are what you eat! The composition of the food we consume directly determines our physiological profile and is critical to a growing child, physically and psychologically, and the effects of which can last well into adulthood.

Despite the wide variety of food available in the modern diet, nutritional deficiencies in children are prevalent in our society. Children’s diets can be high in sugars, carbohydrates and saturated fats (bad lipids), but low in vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fats (good lipids). The result: a poor-quality diet which lacks essential nutrients required for optimal growth and energy.

This is a growing concern in Hong Kong, where lifestyle also plays a contributing factor and certain foods are found lacking in the nutritional content required.

As well as growth and development issues, there is a link between nutritional deficiency and children’s behaviour. Some nutrients are especially important for children’s brain development, from the foetus stage to the teenage years.

Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiencies in Children

Symptoms of deficiencies can be wide-ranging and debilitating and can often go un- or misdiagnosed. Symptoms to look out for:

  • Bedwetting
  • Persistent colds, allergies, wheezing, stuffy nose, sweating
  • Hyperactivity, Irritability, twitchiness
  • Constipation, Diarrhoea, stomach aches
  • Fatigue
  • Poor attention span, poor school performance

Brain-Essential Nutrients Commonly Deficient in Children


Iron deficiency in childhood can cause irreversible effects, such as changes in chemistry of neurotransmitters. These are all related to altered behavioural and neural development resulting in deficiencies in muscle and brain function.


Magnesium deficiency is common in children, especially in those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Studies on magnesium-deficient ADD/ADHD children revealed that when supplemented with magnesium and Vitamin B complex for 2 to 6 months, two-thirds of those with physical signs (hypertonia and tremors) resolved their symptoms and behaviours (inattention, aggression, hyperactivity/impulsivity) normalised by 75%.


The bodies of zinc-deficient children are less responsive to stimulants, medications and essential fatty acid-supplementation. Zinc is required for brain cell communication, utilisation of Vitamin B6 (required for protein function), and bioconversion of essential fatty acids (required for brain cell structures).


Vitamin A, B complex, C, D and E are important for brain development and immunity-building. Their roles range from maintaining cellular functions, nerve cell communications, physical coordination, inflammatory response and metabolism. During the foetus and infant stages, Vitamin B complex is especially crucial for brain and nerve development.

Essential Fatty Acids

Fat is the primary nutrient for the brain and makes up 60% of the brain’s weight. These fats are mainly omega-3 and -6 in the form of DHA and EPA, two essential unsaturated fatty acids for our body. They play an important role in creating good cell function, including nerve structure and the anti-inflammatory process.

Consequences of nutrition deficiency

Although many nutrients are available from a high-quality diet there are other factors affecting their actual absorption, such as levels of intake, an imbalanced diet, toxin and heavy metal deposits, digestive issues, drugs (medicines) and stress. This means that although a child has a high-quality diet they may still be deficient.  Consequences of nutrition deficiency affect physical growth, which in turn leads to more frequent illnesses.

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