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Malnutrition In Children And Adults: Causes, Effects And Prevention

According to the data by The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) Nutrition, in 2017, malnutrition was the primary risk factor for death in children below 5 years in every state of India. It accounted for 68.2% of the total deaths in children. The death rate drastically increased to 706,000.

South Asia has the highest child malnutrition, according to the Global Hunger Index. Around the world, about 795 Million people are undernourished, the majority of which are in Africa and Asia.

The World Bank data indicates that India has one of the world's highest demographics of children suffering from malnutrition. In India in 2017, the prevalence of low birth-weight was at 21.4%, child underweight was at 32.7%, child wasting was at 15.7%, child stunting was at 39.3%, overweight children at 11.5%, anaemia in children was 59.7%, and anaemia in women aged 15-49 was 54.4%.

The states of India where malnutrition is prominent are Rajasthan, Bihar, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

What Is Malnutrition? [1]

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), malnutrition means there is a deficiency or imbalance in a person's intake of nutrients. It covers two broad groups of conditions - undernutrition which includes wasting, stunting, underweight and micronutrient deficiencies. The second one is overnutrition where there is an oversupply of nutrients which can lead to obesity, vitamin poisoning, etc.

Causes Of Malnutrition [2]

  • Long-term conditions that cause lack of appetite
  • Disrupted digestion
  • Increase in the body's demand for energy
  • Mental health conditions like schizophrenia or depression which affects your mood and desire to eat
  • Conditions such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis disrupt the body's ability to digest food or absorb nutrients
  • Another cause of malnutrition could be anorexia, an eating disorder
  • Social and mobility problems
  • Alcoholism
  • Breastfeeding.

Signs And Symptoms Of Malnutrition

  • Loss of interest in foods or drinks
  • Irritability and tiredness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Loss of body tissue, muscle mass, and loss of fat
  • Longer healing time for wounds
  • Higher risk of getting sick and taking time to recover.

Children show a lack of growth and they become tired and irritable. The behavioural and intellectual development also become slow, possibly resulting in learning difficulties. And when adults suffer from severe undernourishment, they make a full recovery with treatment.

Types Of Malnutrition

1. Growth failure malnutrition - It is the failure of an individual to grow as expected in weight and height according to his or her age and gender [3] .

2. Acute malnutrition or wasting - It occurs out of sudden, drastic weight loss. This leads to three types of clinical malnutrition marasmus, kwashiorkor, and marasmic-kwashiorkor [4] .

3. Chronic malnutrition or stunting - This type of malnutrition begins before birth due to poor maternal health and leads to the stunted growth of the child.

4. Micronutrient malnutrition - This refers to a moderate to severe lack of vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, folate, iron, zinc and selenium.[5] .

What Are The Effects Of Malnutrition In Children? [6]

  • Decaying teeth
  • Poor immune function
  • Swollen and bleeding gums
  • Dry and scaly skin
  • Underweight
  • Having trouble in focusing and paying attention
  • Bloated stomach
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor growth
  • Loss of energy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Organ function failure
  • Learning problems

What Causes Malnutrition In Children? [7]

Diseases that cause chronic intestinal inflammation such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease in children may lead to malnutrition. Intestinal worm infections in children also cause malnutrition in children.

How To Treat Malnourished Children? [8]

Many of the harmful effects of malnutrition can be reversed only if the child is mildly malnourished. If you are seeing that your child is becoming weaker, then he or she is lacking nutrients. Speak to your doctor who may conduct a physical exam and will ask about the types and amount of food your child is eating. The doctor will also measure your child's height, weight and body mass index (BMI), check for any underlying conditions that could cause malnutrition, order blood tests to check for nutritional deficiencies.

The treatment for malnutrition totally depends on the cause. A dietitian might recommend specific changes in the quantity of food and recommend dietary supplements such as vitamins and minerals. Not only children, but older adults also seem to have malnutrition too.

What Are The Effects Of Malnutrition In Older Adults?

Older adults with malnutrition can have numerous health problems like unintentional weight loss, loss of strength and muscle weakness, tiredness and fatigue, depression, anaemia, depression, problems with memory and a weak immune system.

Due to these health problems, malnourished adults visit their doctors more often. They are unable to recover from surgery or other procedures as quickly as healthy adults who are well-nourished.

What Causes Malnutrition In Older Adults? [9]

A number of things can cause malnutrition in adults which include:

Health problems - Having health problems like dementia and other chronic illnesses lead to a loss of appetite. They may be put on a restricted diet as well.

Medicines - There are certain medicines that can decrease your appetite or affect the taste and smell of food which might make it harder to consume food.

Disability - Older adults living with dementia or physical disabilities and staying alone may not be able to cook for themselves.

Alcohol - It decreases appetite and disrupts the body's natural process of absorbing nutrients. It interferes with the nutrition process by affecting food storage, digestion, utilization and excretion of nutrients.

How To Treat Malnutrition In Older Adults? [10]

  • It is essential to request screenings for nutrition problems during routine doctor visits and ask about nutritional requirements that best suits you.
  • Food packed with nutrients should be consumed. Eat as much as nuts and seeds, curd, fruits, vegetables, cereals, nut butters, whole milk etc. You could add extra egg whites to omelettes and add cheese to your soups, noodles and sandwiches to enhance the nutritional value.
  • A restricted diet can be made more appealing by using lemon juice, spices and herbs.
  • Binge on healthy snacks like a piece of fruit or cheese, a spoonful of peanut butter or a fruit smoothie that will provide your body with an ample amount of nutrients and calories.
  • Try doing moderate to light exercises daily, it will help stimulate appetite, strengthen bones and muscles.

Who Is At A Higher Risk Of Malnutrition?

  • The elderly, especially those who are in hospital.
  • People with low income or those who are socially isolated.
  • People with long-term chronic disorders, for instance, eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
  • People recovering from a serious illness or condition, particularly those conditions that affect their ability to eat.

How To Spot Malnutrition?

To detect malnutrition, you should observe your loved one's eating habits, watch out for unexplained weight loss, check for wounds that are taking time to heal, dental problems and keep a tab on medications that affect appetite.

Ways To Prevent Malnutrition

1. Make healthier food choices

It is very important to encourage your loved ones to make healthier food choices. First, start with getting your personalized nutritional information based on your gender, age, height, weight and physical activity level. Enjoy your food while you eat, fill half of your plate with oranges, red, brown and dark-green coloured fruits and vegetables.

2. Healthy snacking

Snack on healthy food items to get a good dose of extra nutrients and calories between meals. Healthy snacking will improve your overall health, boost brain power, regulate mood, and provide your body with a sufficient amount of energy.

3. Exercise

As malnutrition causes tremendous weight loss, exercising for good 30 minutes a day can help in managing weight, combat health conditions and diseases, improve mood and boost energy.

4. Add supplements to your diet

A person with malnutrition may benefit from a supplement shake or other nutritional supplements.

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View Article References
  1. [1] Yadav, S. S., Yadav, S. T., Mishra, P., Mittal, A., Kumar, R., & Singh, J. (2016). An Epidemiological Study of Malnutrition Among Under Five Children of Rural and Urban Haryana.Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR,10(2), LC07–LC10.
  2. [2] Motedayen, M., Dousti, M., Sayehmiri, F., & Pourmahmoudi, A. A. (2019). An Investigation of the Prevalence and Causes of Malnutrition in Iran: a Review Article and Meta-analysis.Clinical nutrition research,8(2), 101–118.
  3. [3] Scholl, T. O., Johnston, F. E., Cravioto, J., DeLicardie, E. R., & Lurie, D. S. (1979). The relationship of growth failure (chronic undernutrition) to the prevalence of clinically severe protein-energy malnutrition and to growth retardation in protein-energy malnutrition.The American journal of clinical nutrition,32(4), 872-878.
  4. [4] Bhadoria, A. S., Kapil, U., Bansal, R., Pandey, R. M., Pant, B., & Mohan, A. (2017). Prevalence of severe acute malnutrition and associated sociodemographic factors among children aged 6 months-5 years in rural population of Northern India: A population-based survey.Journal of family medicine and primary care,6(2), 380–385.
  5. [5] Gonmei, Z., & Toteja, G. S. (2018). Micronutrient status of Indian population.The Indian journal of medical research,148(5), 511–521.
  6. [6] Gaayeb, L., Sarr, J. B., Cames, C., Pinçon, C., Hanon, J. B., Ndiath, M. O., … Hermann, E. (2014). Effects of malnutrition on children's immunity to bacterial antigens in Northern Senegal.The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene,90(3), 566–573.
  7. [7] Sahu, S. K., Kumar, S. G., Bhat, B. V., Premarajan, K. C., Sarkar, S., Roy, G., & Joseph, N. (2015). Malnutrition among under-five children in India and strategies for control.Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine,6(1), 18–23.
  8. [8] Lenters, L., Wazny, K., & Bhutta, Z. A. (2016). Management of severe and moderate acute malnutrition in children.Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health,205.
  9. [9] Hickson M. (2006). Malnutrition and ageing.Postgraduate medical journal,82(963), 2–8.
  10. [10] Wells, J. L., & Dumbrell, A. C. (2006). Nutrition and aging: assessment and treatment of compromised nutritional status in frail elderly patients.Clinical interventions in aging,1(1), 67–79.

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