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10 Facts About Malnutrition in Children

malnutrition in children
Child hunger is a very significant issue today. World Hunger defines hunger as protein-energy malnutrition, or a lack of calories and protein. UNICEF estimates state that malnutrition in children affects nearly 195 million worldwide. Discussed below are the leading facts about malnutrition in children and its implications.


Top 10 Facts on Malnutrition in Children


  1. Malnutrition can begin as early as conception. If a mother does not receive proper nutrition during pregnancy, her child will already be at risk of developmental problems. This means that early intervention is crucial.
  2. Children have a two-year period, beginning at conception and continuing into infancy, known as the “window of opportunity.” During this time, a child can be guarded against the most devastating effects of malnutrition.
  3. Malnutrition presents itself in three ways: stunting (shorter-than-average height), wasting (having a low weight for one’s height) and being underweight (having a low weight for one’s age.)
  4. A malnourished child can suffer neurological damage. Brain damage is one of many health issues caused by malnutrition, and it can lower IQ, even resulting in mental retardation for some children.
  5. Children are affected in more areas than their brains — their immune systems are at risk, too. Children who are malnourished are more likely to die from common childhood ailments, like diarrhea and respiratory illnesses.
  6. Malnutrition is more than just a lack of food, it’s a lack of nutrients. Malnourished children often suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which have the most negative effects on their health. Recall that children suffering from hunger can develop brain damage. This is due in part to iron deficiency; so is the decreased ability to fight off common infections.
  7. Child hunger kills in colossal numbers. It contributes one-third of the 8 million deaths each year of children younger than 5 years old.
  8. The main cause of child malnutrition is poverty. Conversely, hunger contributes to poverty, creating a vicious cycle. Another factor contributing to malnutrition is conflict: years of civil war in Libya have put parents in a difficult position without access to food for their families. Natural disasters, particularly droughts and floods, are also contributors to child malnutrition.
  9. North Korea had the highest percentage of children under 5 years old who were underweight between the years of 1995 and 2000, and 60 percent of children under 5 were underweight during this time.
  10. As of 2000, more than half of the world’s underweight children lived in southern Asia.

Unfortunately, many of today’s food aid programs are not targeting malnutrition. The programs are relying heavily on a corn-soy cereal blend that simply does not contain the required nutrients to keep children from becoming malnourished. While these programs are relieving hunger, many children receiving aid are still deprived of valuable nutrients that they will need to grow into successful, healthy adults.

 — Rachel Davis

Sources: ChildFund, Starved for Attention, UNICEF, World Hunger
Photo: U.N.