The condition of malnutrition incorporates three broad conditions. These are undernutrition, overweight and micronutrient-related malnutrition. Those suffering from undernutrition show stunting and wasting. When the child has low weight-for-height, it is called wasting. It is a result of recent and critical weight loss. A young child that is severely or moderately wasted is at greater health risk than other kids. In comparison, when the child has a low height-for-age, it is called stunting. Stunting indicates chronic and recurrent undernutrition. It prevents children from reaching their full physical and cognitive potential.
An underweight child has low weight for age. These are usually stunted, wasted, or both. When the body mass index (BMI) of a child is more than a set parameter, they are considered overweight. Overweight and obesity are the results of excessive fat accumulation in the body. It causes more weight-for-age for the child. Overweight and obesity are related to chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart attacks, certain cancers, and diabetes. An inadequate supply of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, inhibits proper growth and development. Iodine, vitamin A and iron are the most deficient micronutrients globally. These deficiencies affect the immune system and make children more susceptible to infections. Other general symptoms of malnutrition include pale and dry skin, rashes, achy joints, weak hair, easily bleeding gums, soft and tender gums, and night blindness.
Causal factors of malnutrition
Wasting often occurs when the child does not receive enough food or has suffered from an infectious disease that causes weight loss. Sometimes, both the causes could occur together. For instance, when one suffers from diarrhea and does not get sufficient food to replenish themselves.
Stunting is a result of a recurrent case of undernutrition. This is usually associated with poor socioeconomic conditions, where children cannot avail enough food to meet their nutritional needs. Stunting is also caused due to poor maternal health and nutritional intake, and recurrent illness. If they do not revive appropriate infant and young child feeding in the child’s early life, it could cause stunting. Diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), respiratory tract infections, ear, or gastrointestinal system, measles, and diarrhea can cause severe malnourishment in children. In infants, breastmilk feeding is very crucial. In its absence, the infant may not receive adequate nutrients, such as iron. Unhygienic living conditions and inadequate health services are also causal factors of malnutrition in children. Some regions of the world have poor water supplies and poor sanitation. Unfair sharing of food occurs in some families, thereby causing undernourishment in some. Family food insecurity is also a cause of malnourishment.
Prevalence of malnutrition
Undernourishment is a cause of death in children. It accounts for about 45% of deaths of children below the age of 5 worldwide. Most of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
Micronutrient deficiency, such as that of iron, iodine, and vitamin A, is a major risk to the health and development of populations globally. The global tendency to consume more energy-dense food and lesser engagement in physical activity is causing an increased incidence of obesity and overweight. In 2016, about 41million children around the world were found to be overweight or obese. The number of children below the age of 5 across the world suffering from stunting was 155million in 2016. Infants, children, and adolescents have a high requirement of nutrients and energy in the crucial years of growth and development. As a result, they are at most risk for malnutrition. Pregnant women are also susceptible to malnutrition. Malnutrition in pregnancy leads to infants being born with malnutrition. In the United States, about 1% of children suffer from some form of chronic malnutrition. Most of these children suffer from malnutrition caused by dietary imbalances rather than nutritional deficiencies.
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