Malnutrition refers to a condition in which the body does not get enough nutrients where the cause can poor intake, absorption or utilization leading to irreversible or reversible short term and long term symptoms. Examples of these nutrients include; Minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrate.
Malnutrition in children is a common global health problem that majorly exists in many regions especially the developing countries. According to WHO malnutrition accounts for 54% mortality among children globally and about 35% deaths of children below five years result from underweight and needed require medical treatment.
Signs and Symptoms
1. Stunting – This refers to an extremely low height for age. This can be as a result of lack of protein or calcium. Calcium is needed for bone modelling and ossification leading to its formation and growth while protein is a requirement in forming tissue structures. Growth occurs from birth to age between 16 and 18 years. After this period the growth plate closes thus no more growth.
2. Underweight – During child growth, weight gain should be directly proportional to age. Underweight means the child has less than what is expected of him/her at that age. Underweight is directly a result of muscle wasting.
3. Muscle wasting – Due to loss of proteins and other bodybuilding nutritional supplies, a child becomes thin which is evident by poor skin turgor.
4. Signs that a health professional can also look for are; fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure, sunken eyes and high pulse rate.
Types of Malnutrition
- Protein-energy malnutrition – results from a deficiency in almost all nutrients. It can further be classified into; acute malnutrition which is characterized by rapid weight loss and chronic malnutrition which is characterized by stunted growth that the child transitions with into adulthood. examples of conditions include Marasmus, Rickets and Kwashiorkor.
- Micronutrient deficiency diseases – results from lack of a specific micro-nutrient for instance; Iron, folate, vitamin A and examples include anaemia, scurvy, and night blindness.
Causes of malnutrition
- Inadequate food intake – this can be as a result of the absence of food, lack of appetite or inability to swallow.
- Sanitation – in 2008, WHO estimated that half of the malnutrition cases were as a result of poor hygiene, unsafe water that resulted in intestinal worms and diarrhea thus leading to loss of nutrients.
- Maternal factors – this can be poor breastfeeding habits, malnutrition in the mother thus insufficient milk for the baby. It can also be as a result of poor maternal care.
- Poverty – this refers to a socio-economic status that’s below the standard of provision of a child’s basic needs. It’s a common cause of all the above factors since hygiene, shortage of resources falls under it.
- Diseases – Some disease can result in malnutrition. Examples are Infestation by intestinal worms that sucks blood and lead to anemia.
Treatment and prevention
Prevention measures include observing proper hygiene, eating a balanced diet, taking iron and zinc and ORS tablets during diarrhea to control the condition and nutrients loss and early treatment of any disease.
Treatment measures include administering antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections, antiprotozoal to treat worms, and antifungals to treat different skin conditions. Depending on the condition intravenous feeds are prescribed.