4 Types Of Malnutrition And Their Effects

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Worrying about your Christmas shopping or what to include in the menu for the family feast? Or confused about which of the new tempting pizzas to order for the next meal? Or did you pick more food than you needed at the buffet and are now wondering how to dump these into the dust bin without attracting too much attention? You should perhaps remember that you are just plain lucky. Elsewhere in the world, there are people who have more to worry about; like dying from lack of vital nutrients.

Malnutrition or a lack of proper nutrition affects 578 million people in the Asia-Pacific region alone, most of them are children below the age of five. Here are some statistics:

The Malnutrition Index

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1 in every 8 people suffers from malnutrition. 32.5% of children in developing nations are undernourished and at least 14.5% of the deaths of children between ages 0-5 are due to starvation. These are very basic statistics, but the more one reads them in detail, the more aware one becomes of the tragedy that malnutrition causes.

Impact of Malnutrition

Malnutrition and starvation have devastating impact on children, adults and especially on pregnant women. They also have severe and far-reaching socio-economic impacts.

  • Effects on children: Mental retardation, stunted growth, poor immune system, micronutrient deficiency, GI tract infections, anaemia and inevitably – death.
  • Effects on pregnant women: Besides the health of the child being poor, a pregnant woman might have difficult labour, postpartum haemorrhage and anaemia.
  • General effectsWeak immunity, inactivity of muscles, apathy, depression, kidney function impairment.

Types of Malnutrition

Very few people are aware that malnutrition can be caused not only by the lack of nutrients, but also by their excessive intake! However, it is the malnutrition caused by the lack of essential micro-nutrients that is a major global concern. The main types of malnutrition diseases are growth failure malnutrition and micronutrient malnutrition.

1. Growth failure malnutrition, as the name suggests, is the failure of an individual to grow as expected in stature or weight, according to his/her age and gender. Growth failure malnutrition can take three serious forms:

2. Acute malnutrition or wasting arises out of sudden, drastic weight loss. It leads to three clinical malnutrition types:

  • Marasmus: this occurs when body fat and tissues degenerate at an alarming rate to compensate for the lack of nutrients. As a result, the body’s internal processes begin to slow down alarmingly fast as does the activity of the immune system.
  • Kwashiorkor: this is characterized by bilateral pitting oedema (fluid retention) in the legs and feet. As a result, the under-nourished child may actually look plump.
  • Marasmic-kwashiorkor: This is characterized by both severe wasting and oedema.

3. Chronic malnutrition or stunting happens over a long period of time and has more long-lasting consequences. It begins before birth due to poor maternal health and leads to stunted growth in an otherwise normally proportioned child. Poor breast feeding, infections and lack of availability of proper nutrients are the main causes behind it. Stunting is dangerous because it becomes irreversible after an age. Therefore, it becomes important to nip it in the bud by providing proper medical treatment to pregnant women and young girls.

4. Micronutrient malnutrition implies a moderate to severe lack of Vitamins A, B, C and D, Calcium, Folate, Iodine, Iron, Zinc and Selenium. These vitamins and minerals are of utmost importance in various body processes and their deficiency can make an otherwise healthy person malnourished.

  1. Iron deficiency causes anaemia, poor brain development and cardiac functioning.
  2. Iodine deficiency leads to impaired thyroid functioning and mental retardation.
  3. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets and other bone development related disorders.
  4. Selenium deficiency leads to poor cardiac function, weak immunity and osteoarthritis.
  5. Vitamin A deficiency is a cause of poor vision, bone development and immunity.
  6. Vitamin B12 deficiency leads to nerve degeneration and poor RBC formation
  7. Folate or vitamin B9 deficiency causes slow growth and anaemia
  8. Zinc deficiency can cause poor immunity, sensory perception and anaemia.

Malnutrition is a cause for great concern in all developing nations. And the governments across the globe are increasingly allotting more of their health expenditure in this sector. So the next time you throw away food, or worry about your meal plan, stop, count your blessings and reach out to feed a hungry mouth.

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Maanasi Radhakrishnan
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