Friday, 14 September 2012

Malnutrition: A Global Curse.


Seeing emaciated pictures of children on TV and in news always brings tears to my eyes. It does so especially considering the amount of food that is lost in through man made causes like war and unnecessary conflicts. Furthermore in the developed countries so much food is thrown away but how do we get the balance? What does the future hold for the malnourished children besides more and more suffering if they survive? Please help if you can.

Hundreds of millions of people are affected by malnutrition throughout the world, but most of the cases come from third world countries. Malnutrition is a condition of the body when it is unable to absorb the right amount of nutrients in foods (Malnutrition). This low level of nutrient intake exists because of low levels of food in certain parts of the world. These low levels of food occur because of poor farming techniques, poor storage, extreme weather conditions, and poor supplies. Malnutrition causes many physical problems for people worldwide, but the world can alleviate these problems through many humanitarian acts such as sending food and supplies and teaching farming techniques.

Healthy diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is vital for maintaining health and fitness. To stay healthy, we need to eat foods from a number of different food groups, including:

  • carbohydrates
  • proteins
  • fats
  • dairy


There are two main groups of nutrients:

  • Macronutrients are the main nutrients that provide the body with energy and help growth. They include carbohydrates, protein and fats.
  • Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are required for many specialist functions inside the body. For example, you require a regular intake of iron to help in the production of new red blood cells.

Causes of Malnutrition

Food shortage is the main catalyst of malnutrition and there are many causes of food shortages around the world. One of the main generators of food shortage in the world is the lack of competent resource distribution from governments. Another cause of the food shortage is the use of poor supplies by third world countries.

Lack of breastfeeding

Experts say that lack of breastfeeding, especially in the developing world, leads to malnutrition in infants and children. In some parts of the world mothers still believe that bottle feeding is better for the child. Another reason for lack of breastfeeding, mainly in the developing world, is that mothers abandon it because they do not know how to get their baby to latch on properly, or suffer pain and discomfort


 An alcoholic is a person who suffers from alcoholism - the body is dependent on alcohol. Alcoholism is a chronic (long-term) disease. Individuals who suffer from alcoholism can develop gastritis, or pancreas damage. These problems also seriously undermine the body's ability to digest food, absorb certain vitamins, and produce hormones which regulate metabolism. Alcohol contains calories, reducing the patient's feeling of hunger, so he/she consequently may not eat enough proper food to supply the body with essential nutrients

 Poor diet

 If a person does not eat enough food, or if what they eat does not provide them with the nutrients they require for good health, they suffer from malnutrition. Poor diet may be caused by one of several different factors. If the patient develops dysphagia (swallowing difficulties) because of an illness, or when recovering from an illness, they may not be able to consume enough of the right nutrients.

Underlying Causes

Mental health problems

Some patients with mental health conditions, such as depression, may develop eating habits which lead to malnutrition. Patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia may develop malnutrition because they are ingesting too little food.

Mobility problems

 People with mobility problems may suffer from malnutrition, simply because they either cannot get out enough to buy foods, or find preparing them too arduous.

Lack of safe drinking water

Water is synonymous with life. Lack of potable water, poor sanitation, and dangerous hygiene practices increase vulnerability to infectious and water-borne diseases, which are direct causes of acute malnutrition


Poverty is far from being eradicated. During the last two decades, the number of people affected by extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled, from 164 million in 1982 to some 313 million as of 2002. Poverty alone does not lead to malnutrition, but it seriously affects the availability of adequate amounts of nutritious food for the most vulnerable populations. Over 90 percent of malnourished people live in developing countries.

Lack of access to food

Most major food and nutrition crises do not occur because of a lack of food, but rather because people are too poor to obtain enough food. Non-availability of food in markets, difficult access to markets due to lack of transportation, and insufficient financial resources are all factors contributing to the food insecurity of the most vulnerable populations. People are increasingly dependent on international markets for all or part of their food supply, particularly between harvest periods. Many people are increasingly vulnerable due to fluctuations in the prices, as was recently illustrated during the global food crisis.


Certain illnesses and infections, such as tuberculosis, measles, and diarrhoea are directly linked to acute malnutrition. A combination of disease and malnutrition weakens the metabolism creating a vicious cycle of infection and undernourishment, leading to vulnerability to illness. HIV and AIDS have become a leading cause of acute malnutrition in developing countries. A child infected with HIV is more vulnerable to acute malnutrition than a healthy child. Anti-retroviral drugs are more effective when combined with adequate, regular food intake. So ensuring a healthy diet is an important aspect of HIV control and treatment.
If the HIV-infected child becomes acutely malnourished, her/his diminished nutritional state will increase the likelihood of infections, and may lower the effectiveness of medications — either anti-retroviral treatment or for other illnesses and infections. When severely malnourished, an individual may not be able to tolerate medications at all. The combination of acute malnutrition and HIV and AIDS thus considerably increases the chances of morbidity, placing the child at a higher risk of death.


Conflicts have a direct impact on food security, drastically compromising access to food. Often forced to flee as violence escalates, people uprooted by conflict lose access to their farms and businesses, or other means of local food production and markets. Abandoned fields and farms no longer provide food to broader distribution circuits. As a result, food supplies to distributors may be cut off, and the many populations dependent on them may be unable to obtain sufficient food.

Climate change

In 30 years, the number of natural disasters — droughts, cyclones, floods, etc. — linked to climate change has increased substantially. The effects of climate change are often dramatic, devastating areas which are already vulnerable. Infrastructure is damaged or destroyed; diseases spread quickly; people can no longer grow crops or raise livestock.

According to UN studies in over 40 developing countries, the decline in agricultural production caused either directly or indirectly by climate change could dramatically increase the number of people suffering from hunger in the coming years.

Effects of Malnutrition

Out of the 15 million childhood deaths from malnutrition, about half of these deaths are caused by protein-energy malnutrition (Water-related diseases, 2008). This type of malnutrition is the most common form of malnutrition worldwide and occurs when the human body doesn’t consume enough protein and calories (Water-related diseases, 2008). One of the severe forms of protein-energy malnutrition is called marasmus (Water-related diseases, 2008). When a person acquires this condition, his or her body basically disintegrates to almost nothing. The body’s fat, muscle, and other tissues waste away (Water-related diseases, 2008). The other form of protein-energy malnutrition is called kwashiorkor. This condition occurs when the body receives a normal amount of calories, but not enough protein (Water-related diseases, 2008). Kwashiorkor affects the properties of the liver and causes inflammation to the tissues of the body (Water-related diseases, 2008).

When the body is deficient of essential proteins, other conditions can happen to the body. When the human diet is lacking in iodine, cretinism and irreversible brain damage will occur (Water-related diseases, 2008). Cretinism is a severe stunt in growth due to a lack of thyroid hormones (Cretinism, 2008). The thyroid hormones use iron in the body to control metabolic rates, protein synthesis, and cell growth and differentiation in the body (Thyroid hormone, 2008). When humans lack vitamin A, their bodies are susceptible to blindness and an increase in risk of infection and death (Water-related diseases, 2008).

When the body is lacking iron, fatigue sets in along with anaemia, splitting headaches, and glossitis (Grigsby, MD, 2006). Glossitis is an infection on the tongue (Glossitis, 2008). Anaemia is a state of the body when there are low levels of haemoglobin, a molecule inside red blood cells (Anaemia, 2008). When there are low levels of haemoglobin, organs and tissues of the body don’t receive enough oxygen (Anaemia, 2008).

 When there are low levels of vitamin D in the diet, the human body slows its growth and can contract rickets (Grigsby, MD, 2006).

Rickets is the softening of bone which can lead to body deformation and fractures (Rickets, 2008). When the body lacks zinc, a diminished immune system sets in and the ability to heal wounds is decreased (Grigsby, MD, 2006).

 Also, hyperpigmentation can be acquired by the body (Grigsby, MD, 2006). Hyperpigmentation is the darkening of the skin due to an increase in melanin, the pigment of the skin (Hyperpigmentation, 2008).

Abdominal changes are another effect of malnutrition (Grigsby, MD, 2006). People with malnutrition have very poor abdominal musculature which can lead to abdominal distension (Grigsby, MD, 2006). Also, the body’s fat tissues infiltrate the abdominal region which can cause hepatomegaly (Grigsby, MD, 2006). Hepatomegaly is the enlargement of the liver which results in metabolic tumours and increases of toxicity levels in the body (Hepatomegaly, 2008).

Malnutrition can also cause negative effects on the body’s skin. Grigsby, MD (2006) states that the body’s skin becomes dry and can be easily peeled away, leaving raw areas on the body (p. 4). Also, hyperpigmented plaques grow over these raw areas on the body (Grigsby, MD, 2006). The nails on a person’s hands and feet change from a smooth, healthy texture, to an unhealthy fissured or ridged texture (Grigsby, MD, 2006). A person’s hair can change, too. Grigsby, MD (2006) says the body’s hair thins and hair colour fades away to a dull brown (p. 5). The hair follicles become weak and hair can be easily pulled out of the skin (Grigsby, MD, 2006).

Through malnutrition, chronic illnesses and diseases can be easily acquired as well. One chronic illness that correlates with malnutrition is cystic fibrosis (Grigsby, MD, 2006). Heart disease and neuromuscular diseases also combine with malnutrition effects (Grigsby, MD, 2006). A disease that is easily contracted by people affected by malnutrition is the measles. The measles is under control in most developed countries, but in countries with low food levels, the disease is more destructive. People contract measles easily when they have malnutrition because the lack of vitamins and calories in their bodies greatly reduces their immune systems’ abilities.

Malnutrition’s effects are especially hazardous to children. Grigsby, MD (2006) states that children who have malnutrition can experience dwarfism (p. 4). Also, these children can experience prematurity and developmental delays (Grigsby, MD, 2006). Malnutrition even has its grasp on babies before they are born. Mothers-to-be who are lacking essential vitamins and nutrients in their diet often give birth to badly deformed babies (Belli, 1971). Also, rickets and anaemia have been associated with babies who have mothers with malnutrition.

Solutions for Malnutrition

Even though there are many causes of malnutrition, and its effects are powerful and widespread, there are ways for the world to fight back against malnutrition. The main solution for malnutrition is humanitarian actions. The World Food Program (WFP) is a major humanitarian group and accounts for more than one-half of the food shipments to Africa (Haile, 2005). In 1999, the WFP assisted 20 million people in Africa and the number has risen to 36.4 million people helped in 2003 and more than 60 million in 2011.

Humanitarian programs like the WFP are only as effective as their plan of action and funding. These humanitarian groups rely on funding from the government and donations of money and food from people around the world

Besides donating money and food to programs, starting centres that nurse people back to health cuts down on the cases of malnutrition.

Besides volunteering and donating food and money, teaching good farming practices raises food production. Haile (2005) says that farmers use traditional agricultural calendars created years ago that don’t coincide with today’s weather patterns (p. 2180). Teaching farmers seasonal forecasts helps them make favourable decisions for their agricultural strategies (Haile, 2005). Farmers who follow seasonal forecasts are able to make good planting schedules by knowing when to use certain fertilizers or plant certain seeds depending upon the climate and season (Haile, 2005). Also, seasonal forecasts help farmers predict when the rainy season begins (Haile, 2005).

Teaching agricultural monitoring also helps farmers with food production like Oxfam does in Africa and other affected areas. Farmers must calculate the start of season (SoS) in order to know when the agricultural season begins (Haile, 2005). Agricultural monitoring also needs farmers to monitor the length of growing period (LGP), which is the time between the SoS and end of the season (Haile, 2005). Agricultural monitoring informs farmers about the length of the upcoming rainy season and the critical periods of when to plant and pick crops (Haile, 2005).

Politicians should not be selfish and think of the people to avoid man made malnutrition. Wars and conflicts only make things worse for civilians.
Compiled by Abigal Muchecheti
Author, Married to a Devil



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