Myriad faces of malnutrition

Malnutrition has been popularly considered as a dreaded “third world” term. The moment reports mention this word, majority of us conjure up an image of the poor countries, where men, women and children alike look pale, sick and showcase a skeletal frame. Now, that’s not completely a fault, as the media generally projects malnutrition as a poor country epidemic.

This nutrition deficiency condition is not about hunger, being thin, starving children in Africa or other remote parts of the globe. It is just a matter of diet, which lacks many vital nutrients. It can also be related to financial condition, as in today’s world, a balanced diet does not come cheap or affordable. As per UNICEF, India ranks 10th and 17th among countries that harbor maximum number of underweight and stunted children. So, the question remains

  • - Is malnutrition a disease of children?
  • - Is it irreversible?
  • - Is it linked to other health conditions?

Though malnutrition can begin in the womb itself which affects fetus growth, it is also a condition of the older adults, accompanied with unintentional weight loss, fatigue, etc. Adults obviously do not show stunting, but exhibit extreme wasting or oedema due to acute protein-energy malnutrition. About 23% women, and 20% men are India are documented to be undernourished. This condition like many other health adversaries, does bear a huge impact on mortality rates and economic growth. With 50% of childhood deaths being connected to this condition, it increases susceptibility to illnesses, and reduces ability to learn.

This poor nutrition condition in the early stages can lead to long lasting irreversible effects on growth and development as it also affects the intestinal microbiome. Though gestation related malnutrition has been detected to be irreversible, studies have shown prioritizing children’s nutrition for the first 1000 days and beyond to considerably reduce the negative effects of stunting. This condition has also been linked to HIV, as the virus affected generally exhibit loss of appetite and difficulty in ingesting food.

The way ahead lies in acknowledging its presence, and avoiding being judgmental about its prevalence. Pregnancy by choice goes a long way in preventing development of a malnourished fetus, while indulging in diet of fortified foods, goes a long way in controlling onset.

Happy Learning!