What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a serious medical problem.
Malnutrition is a serious medical problem.

Malnutrition occurs when an individual consumes a diet which has inadequate nutrients which leads to the diet resulting in health issues. Malnutrition may involve such nutrients as minerals, protein, calories, vitamins, and carbohydrates. The concept is mostly used to denote under-nutrition, where a person lacks enough nutrients and in extreme cases leads to starvation.


Malnutrition results from different factors. Poverty along with food prices can be a barrier to people acquiring essential food products such as milk and fruits. This problem is particularly prevalent in developing and under-developed nations. More than 90% of people living with malnutrition inhabit developing nations. Lack of access to food products which includes inadequate food in markets also causes malnutrition. In some territories, lack of transport infrastructure makes it hard for communities to access food markets. Conflicts also trigger malnutrition by destabilizing food production activities and causing people to flee. Some diseases have also been linked to malnutrition including HIV/AIDS, gastroenteritis, and diarrhea. Such diseases can cause malnutrition due to the reduction of food eaten, direct loss of nutrients, reduction in nutrient absorption, and an increase in metabolic requirements. Climate change has been identified as an emerging trigger of malnutrition since it has caused costly disruptions in weather patterns. The increased occurrence of natural disasters has translated to the destruction of crops and infrastructure.


Malnutrition has several impacts on an individual. First, it results in a weaker immune system leaving the person vulnerable to infections and causing longer recovery periods. Malnutrition has also been shown to increase the risk of a mother passing HIV to her child as well as increasing the multiplication of the virus. A malnourished individual is more vulnerable to pneumonia and hypothermia, respiratory failure, urinary infections, fertility issues, and organ failures. Some health conditions such as jaundice, anemia, scurvy, rickets, and edema result from poor nutrition. Low nutrition in children is a critical concern since it can result in cognitive impairments and limited growth.


The strategies to prevent malnutrition include food security where modern agricultural methods are adopted to boost food production. Investments in agriculture results in lower food prices and higher harvests as farmers get access to subsidized seeds as well as fertilizers. Governments in developing nations have been encouraged to invest in agriculture in a bid to combat poor nutrition. Breastfeeding has also been identified as an important factor in preventing malnutrition in children since it is packed with nutrients. Establishing health centers especially in rural areas give people access to education on nutrition and they also help health workers to monitor undernourished people.


A total of 793 million undernourished people were identified across the world in 2015, which is less than the 991 million individuals reported in 1991. The farmers of the world, on the other hand, produced food to cater to about 12 billion people which is nearly two times the current world population. The World Health Organization recognizes malnutrition as the largest cause of child mortality. An estimate of six million children succumb to hunger annually. Most of the nations with significant populations of undernourished people are in Africa and Asia. The Caribbean territories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic also have high rates of malnutrition.


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