Malnutrition is a public health problem that can be seen mostly in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. According to the WHO, malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients or impaired nutrient utilization. People all over the world suffer from malnutrition, especially in places where there is war, economic crisis, drought, floods or other manners of human suffering. However, the focus of this article will be the diseases or syndromes that can stem from malnutrition. Malnutrition and disease often go hand in hand. Here are three diseases caused by malnutrition.
Kwashiorkor is a disease that stems from malnutrition and severe protein deficiency. Kwashiorkor causes fluid retention and swelling, especially in the abdomen. This disease most commonly affects children, especially in developing countries where there is food insecurity and high levels of poverty.
If left untreated, Kwashiorkor can be fatal. This disease can cause immune system failure, liver failure, growth and development delays in children and can lead to starvation and death.
Kwashiorkor primarily affects children, especially from ages 3 to 5. This disease is widely spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and is also common in Southeast Asia and Central America. Kwashiorkor affects both girls and boys equally and remains a major threat in food-insecure countries.
Marasmus is a severe form of malnutrition. While kwashiorkor is a deficiency in protein, marasmus is a deficiency of all the macronutrients in the body. Marasmus causes the wasting of fat and muscle under the skin, making one look depleted and visibly underweight.
Marasmus can be caused by starvation or not having enough nutrients. The body will start feeding on its own fat and muscle, then begin shutting down some functions to conserve energy. Marasmus causes low heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. This form of malnutrition can be fatal, leading to heart failure. It also compromises the immune system making malnourished people more prone to infection and illnesses.
It is thought that there are 18 million children living in low or middle-income countries who are suffering from Marasmus. It is more common in developing countries like some areas of Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, people in the nations have poor access to food, making it difficult to get the correct amount of nutrients, which leads to Marasmus.
Rickets is a condition that affects bone development in children. It specifically softens and weakens the bones typically due to an extreme deficiency of calcium and vitamin D. This condition only occurs in growing bones, so it occurs most commonly in infants and young children.
Any child who lacks these vitamins can develop rickets, however, children in areas of low food income may be more affected. Rickets is common in regions of Asia where there is pollution and a lack of sunlight or low intake of meat. Rickets is also common in Africa, partly because people tend to have darker skin, which reduces vitamin D absorption.
In severe and untreated cases, the bone becomes more fragile and prone to fractures, and some children may develop heart diseases that can be fatal.
All in all, malnourishment is a direct cause of 300,000 deaths per year while contributing to 50% of deaths in younger children. It’s thought to be around 852 million people globally that are starving, with the majority (815 million) in undeveloped countries.
Victims of suffering hunger around the world can be threatened by many different variables. These are just a few examples of syndromes and diseases that can stem from malnutrition.
However, in 2019 a plan to reduce malnutrition in Africa was adopted by WHO. The strategic plan includes specific goals to be met by 2025 and strives to develop evidence-based policies and national capabilities. Priority interventions include enforcing laws and food safety regulations, utilizing financial incentives to promote healthy food selections, and incorporating crucial nutrition acts into systems for delivering health care services to reduce malnutrition and ultimately, reduce diseases caused by malnutrition.
– Paige Falk