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Monday, April 22, 2024


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By Sainabou Cham
4th year medical student

UTG Medical Students’ Association

When we hear the word malnutrition, often time our minds go to nutritional deficient, under nutrition, loss of weight, wasting and the like, caused mostly by poverty but this is just one aspect of malnutrition. Mal means poor and nutrition simply refers to your diet. So malnutrition is not just limited to not eating properly but it includes over eating as well. If you over eat, you’re having a poor diet. Over eating or excessive eating leads to obesity especially when you’re physically inactive. This is a major risk factor for many diseases. Your body needs a variety of nutrients, and in certain amounts (not less or more) to maintain its tissues and many functions.

What is malnutrition?

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Malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients or impaired nutrient utilization. In other words, malnutrition is when you’re eating less or more than the daily requirements of food, not having a balance diet e.g. eating too much of carbohydrates with little or no proteins and vitamins, or even eating a balanced diet but there is a problem in absorbing the nutrients rendering the food useless in your body because you’ve eaten but unfortunately not able to make good use of the nutrients. The latter happens mostly in certain disease conditions.

Various forms of malnutrition

1.         Under nutrition, which includes wasting, stunting and underweight.

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2.         Micronutrient- related malnutrition

3.         Overweight, obesity and diet related non-communicable disease(such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers)

1. Under nutrition

Wasting is defined as low weight-for-height. It often indicates recent and severe weight loss, although it can also persist for a long time. It usually occurs when a person has not had food of adequate quality and quantity and/or they have had frequent or prolonged illnesses. Wasting in children is associated with a high risk of death if not treated properly.

Stunting is referred to as low weight-for-age. It is a result of chronic or recurrent under nutrition. Usually associated with poverty, poor maternal health and nutrition, frequent illnesses and/or inappropriate feeding and care in early life. Stunting prevents children from reaching their physical and cognitive potential.

Underweight is defined as low weigh-for-age. A child who is underweight may be stunted, wasted or both.

2. Micronutrient –related malnutrition

Micronutrient deficiencies are a lack of vitamins and minerals (both are mostly found in fruits and vegetables) that are essential for body functions needed for growth and development.

Iodine, vitamin A, and iron are the most important in global public health terms: their deficiency represents a major threat to the health and development of populations worldwide, particularly children and pregnant women in low-income countries.

3. Overweight and obesity

Overweight and obesity is when a person is too heavy for his height. Abnormal or excessive fat accumulation can impair health.

Overweight and obesity can result from an imbalance between energy consumed (too much) and energy expended (too little). Globally people are consuming foods and drinks that are more energy dense (high in carbohydrates and fats), and engaging in less physical activity.

What are the consequences?

o          Around 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight or obese while 462 million are underweight.

o          Globally in 2020, 149 million children under 5 were estimated to be stunted (too short for age), 45 million were estimated to be wasted9too thin for height), and 38.9 million were overweight or obese.

o          Around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years are linked to malnutrition. These mostly occur in low-income countries. At the same times, in these countries, rates of childhood overweight and obesity are rising.

o          Adding to this burden are the 528 million or 29% of women of reproductive age around the world affected with anemia, for which half would be amenable to iron supplementation.

Many families cannot afford or access enough nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, meat and milk, while foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are cheaper and more readily available, leading to a rapid rise in the number of children and adults who are overweight and obese, in poor as well as rich countries. It is quite common to find under nutrition and overweight within the same community, household or even individual- it is possible to be both overweight and micronutrient deficient.

Who is at risk?

Every country in the world is affected by one or more forms of malnutrition. Combating Malnutrition in all its forms is one of the greatest global health challenges.

Women, infants, children and adolescents are at particular risk of malnutrition. Optimizing nutrition early in life-including the 1000days from conception to a child’s second birthday- ensures the best possible start in life, with long term benefits.

Poverty amplifies the risk of, and risks from, malnutrition. People who are poor are more likely to be affected by the different for s of malnutrition. Also malnutrition increases health care costs, reduces productivity, and slows economic growth, which can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and ill-health.

How to prevent malnutrition

1.         Giving breast milk for at least 6 months in babies but breast feed for 2 years

2.         Fulfill nutritional needs since pregnancy

3.         Child development monitor

4.         Support breastfeeding with Healthy complementary foods

5.         Always maintain environmental cleanliness

6.         Prepare healthy meals (balanced diet)

7.         Eat variety of foods (including fruits and vegetables)

8.         Physical exercise

9.         Good hand hygiene

10.       Keep cooking utensils and drinking glasses clean

11.       Avoid food contamination

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