Almost every country is affected by malnutrition in one way or the other. Infants, children, and adolescents belong to their major risk category. All around the world, around 47 million kids under the age of 5 are wasted, 144 million are stunted, 38.3 million are obese, and 14.3 million children are severely wasted.
A child dies every 10 seconds approximately due to hunger-related diseases. And, 45 per cent of death among children under the age of 5 are related to malnutrition. What can you do to prevent this from happening to your child?
What is Malnutrition?
Malnutrition refers to the state of deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s diet, intake of energy, proteins, and nutrients for optimal health. It causes adverse effects on the body tissues, body form and functions. Malnutrition mainly addresses three conditions, namely undernutrition, micronutrient-related malnutrition, and overweight.
Causes of Malnutrition in Children
Malnutrition in kids occurs when he/she does not receive an adequate amount of nutrients. This damages the vital organs and functions of the body. Lack of food and poverty can be considered as one of the most important causes of malnutrition in the poorer and developing countries. Other causes include:
- Difficulty in eating due to painful teeth or other painful lesions of the mouth.
- Dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing.
- Loss of appetite. Depressive illness, mental illness, chronic infections, tumours, liver or kidney diseases etc. are the common reasons for appetite loss.
- Persistent nausea or vomiting.
- Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa
- Limited knowledge about nutrition. People with little or no knowledge regarding nutrition follow an unhealthy diet which further results in malnutrition.
- Digestive illnesses such as ulcerative colitis or malabsorption syndrome.
- Taking medications that alter the body’s ability to absorb and break down nutrients.
- Lack of adequate breastfeeding.
- Childhood cancers, cystic fibrosis, heart defects, and other major long term diseases.
- Orphans and neglected children living in care homes are at risk of malnutrition.
Signs of Malnutrition in Children
In the starting stage, signs of malnutrition may not be evident; however, symptoms may worsen over time if left untreated. Some of the signs of malnutrition in children include:
- Significant weight loss often accompanied by dizziness and fatigue
- Dry skin
- Bleeding gums
- Weakening of bones and muscles
- Reduced ability to perform day to day tasks
- Bloated abdomen which worsens over time
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased organ function such as heart problems, reduced lung capacity
- Affected mental health
- Reduced physical performance
- Altered moods such as lethargy and depression
- Poor concentration
- Poor growth in children
Prevention of Malnutrition
Always encourage children to make healthier food choices and follow a well-balanced diet. Eat a variety of foods from the main groups mentioned below as it works well for the prevention of malnutrition in kids.
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
Eat at least five portions of a variety of veggies and fruits every single day
- Milk and milk products, eggs, lean meat, and fish
When it comes to milk and milk products, always go for lower fat and lower food products. Eat less red and processed meat. Try to eat two portions of sustainably sourced oily fish once in a week.
- Cereals and pulses
Eat more pulses and choose wholegrain or high fibre with less amount of fat, sugar, and salt.
- Oil, fats, and nuts
Choose unsaturated oil. Make sure to use them in small amounts.
It is very important to gradually increase the calories and other nutrients in the diet through several small meals. Limit the intake of solid fats, sugars, and salt. If dietary changes are not providing enough nutrients, then take benefits from supplement shake or from other nutrition supplements. These supplements should only be consumed after getting the prescription of a concerned doctor or dietician.
A little bit of exercise can also help to improve appetite. This will help to keep your bones and muscles strong. Monitor your regular eating habits and conditions and understand if it is caused due to environmental, physical, or financial issues. Always remember that is necessary to consume adequate nutrition and maintain a healthy balanced diet.
Every family should be educated about healthy and child-friendly nutrition as a part of the prevention of malnutrition in kids. Mothers should breastfeed their babies for the first six months. This will help to achieve optimal growth and the full development of a child’s immune system. Good and healthy nutrition from birth to the first three years serves as the foundation for a baby to grow healthy and bright.
If you think your children are at risk of malnutrition, then you should definitely talk to a doctor.