Malnutrition and its Adverse Effect on Children

by Sara Hassan on February 20, 2014

Source- BBC News

Source- BBC News

According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is the greatest threat to global public health. It is a condition that occurs when the body does not get enough nutrients. Known as one of the leading causes of death and disease, malnutrition is directly or indirectly responsible for 50-60% of all childhood deaths in developing countries. However, there is enough food to feed the entire population in the world. So how is it that there are millions of people in the world starving to death? The most basic explanation for that answer is poverty.

According to the World Bank, it is estimated that over one billion people live in absolute poverty, which is defined as earning less than the equivalent of $1 per day.  Absolute poverty is primarily found in developing countries and is responsible for the high rates of childhood mortality. In developing nations, as many as one-third of all children under five years old are malnourished. The World Health Organization estimates that over six million children die a year as a result of malnutrition and related ailments. In less developed countries, malnutrition causes more than half the deaths of children under the age of five.  However, malnutrition not only affects children, but women as well, including pregnant and nursing mothers.

Malnutrition not only decreases physical development, but also results in a permanent stunting of brain development, which is characterized by a decrease in the number of brain cells and a change of brain chemistry. A child will suffer a 15-25% reduction in the number of brain cells if a nutritional deficiency occurs just before or right after birth. In addition to altering brain chemistry, malnutrition can clinically manifest itself as kwashiorkor and marasmus. These two deficiencies are common among children because of the lack of nutrients. Kwashiorkor is a protein deficiency disease that affects millions of children in tropical areas. Symptoms of this disease include discoloration of the hair, white patches on the skin, and hindrance of physical growth. Marasmus is an indication of overall protein-calorie deprivation, meaning that the child is starving. Children with marasmus can be distinguished by their thin, wasted appearance, with their skin hanging loose. Unfortunately, malnutrition also increases a child’s susceptibility to infectious diseases by reducing bodily defenses.

Malnutrition is an increasing epidemic in developing countries and should be stopped. The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the global population is starving, one-third of the global population is under-feed, and one-third is well feed. In my eyes, the entire global population should be well fed and have access to foods that would allow them to get proper nutrients. This may seem like an impossible goal, however, if additional food programs are implemented in developing nations, then the death rates from malnutrition may greatly decrease. It could take years, but is something that can prevent the death of many children. So next time, when you say, “I’m starving!” think twice about the child in a developing nation who is dying of acute malnutrition and how you can possibly help.


Nadakavukarn, A. (2011). Our Global Environment: A Health Perspective. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press Inc.



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