Malnutrition and the significance of nutrients in your eating regimen

6 min reading time

What does every New Year present us with? Global warming issues, biodiversity loss, food waste, pollution, deforestation and many other innumerable problems. But what goes unnoticed amongst all these is Malnutrition. It is a silent killer and has proven to attack a large sector of the population around the globe. 

What is Malnutrition?

When your body is deprived of all the necessary nutrients required for the growth and development of your body regularly, the resulting condition is said to be malnutrition. You need not be skinny and sunken to be called malnourished. You can be fat as a hippo and still be malnourished. Surprised? Here’s what you got to know.

According to WHO, malnutrition distributes itself into two categories:

  1. Undernutrition

a. Stunting: low height for age. Stunting does not allow children to grow to their potential height physically as well as mentally. Socioeconomic factors are mainly responsible for stunting in addition to poor nutrition and maternal health during pregnancy.

b. Wasting: low weight for height. This is known to occur when people do not get to eat sufficient food or have diarrhoea which triggers weight loss. 

c. Underweight: low weight for age

d. Micronutrient-related deficiencies or insufficiencies. This mainly occurs due to a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet. Iron deficiency, iodine, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin A are the most common deficiencies found in people, especially pregnant women and children.

Hidden hunger: As much as the term sounds interesting, it is not. It is one of the most unnoticed and indiscernible causes of malnutrition. It is also known as micronutrient deficiencies affect more than two billion people. 

Hidden hunger can be managed by supplementation, fortification, and diet diversification.

2. Overnutrition: Converse to undernutrition, overnutrition occurs due to excessive consumption of some nutrients.

a. Overweight/obesity: Despite being overnourished the person may have some micronutrient deficiencies. Over consumption of fried food and junk food tend to overwhelm the body with calories and are deficient in nutrients. 

b. Diet-related non-communicable diseases : These include hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, allergy, arthritis etc. 

c. Overdose of micronutrients (eg. Sodium): This can lead to many adverse effects which can vary according to the dose of the micronutrients and duration of time the body is exposed to it.

The double burden of malnutrition

When a person is found to have overnutrition and undernutrition simultaneously, the condition is referred to as the double burden of malnutrition.  

What factors contribute to malnutrition?

Effects of malnutrition

Malnutrition in adults

1. Weight loss: People having weight loss greater than 10% of their body weight in three months and not following a specific diet could be malnourished.

Body Mass Index (BMI): Calculated body weight in kilograms divided by the height in meters squared. 

2. Tiredness and inability to work: Body muscles waste away and become incapable of performing even the daily activities. 

3. Anorexia: In simple terms, this means a lack of appetite

4. Longer healing time for wounds: If the bodily requirements for nutrition are not met even the simplest of the wounds take longer than usual to heal and the body is more susceptible to infections. Overnutrition impedes oxygen, white blood cells, and nutrients to reach the required sites in the body.

5. More complications after surgery: The mortality rate is higher in malnourished patients after surgery.

6. Irregular Menstruation: Malnourished women tend to experience irregular periods. Low amounts of dietary proteins alongside few calories are known to stop the period completely, a condition known as amenorrhea. 

7. Emotional instability: This consists of irritability, anxiety, overwhelming sadness, and depression. The condition worsens further if the person has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Severe cases show difficulty in breathing, pale skin, hair fall and dry hair, organ failure

Malnutrition In children

WHO specified that every year malnutrition alone is responsible for the death of 3.1 million children. Effects of malnutrition in children Malnutrition in children can be temporary or stay with them for the rest of their lives.

1. Short-term implications

a. Immune system: The deficiency of iron, zinc, and Vitamin A is more common in these children. This makes them more prone to developing infections or contracting contagious diseases. The presence of unsanitary domestic conditions further increases the risk of such diseases.

b. Poor growth: Lack of nutrients during growth results in growth retardation. These children are exposed to higher chances of developing GI infections and their health deteriorates more because they face difficulty absorbing the few nutrients that are available to them.  

2. Long-term implications

a. Poor growth: Anorexia, poor bone development, and protein deficiencies can be encountered in such children. If the conditions prevail for a longer time, the children can never reach their full growth potential.

b. Brain development: A malnourished child never undergoes full development and is likely to suffer from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), learning disabilities, poor language development, memory, and focus problems. The child is seen to have a lower IQ, low problem-solving abilities, and lower grades.

Treatment of Malnutrition

 Significance of a healthy diet

As we have seen what malnutrition can do to our body we know that a healthy diet can work wonders. Everybody knows how important a healthy diet is yet we fail to attain the nutritional standards of the body.

A healthy diet is useful for activating the defense system of our body, for example, angiogenesis, regenerative system, microbiome, and DNA apart from helping in regulation of all bodily functions.

A healthy, balanced diet is a key to staying away from a majority of the health issues. Providing children with a variety of foods ensures the availability of all their nutrients to them. Macronutrients are also important and should be added to the diet.

We can fix malnutrition problems in the world if we become a little more aware of our food habits and plan well to avail healthy diet. Though we cannot control all the factors affecting it, the majority of them can be taken care of with proper knowledge and being responsible for our own health.

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