Malnutrition — what does it mean?

Not all food is balanced food. We must eat foods that have all the necessary nutrients for balanced development. Balanced foods must, therefore, contain energy, which the body needs to work with. It must also contain proteins, which are also needed for muscle development and maintenance. It is also crucial to have vitamins and minerals that help the body to heal and fight off infections and diseases.

So, malnutrition (or undernutrition) is when the body lacks some or all the nutrients needed to function properly. We have two basic types of malnutrition.

The first and most crucial is called Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM). This, as the name suggests is the lack of glucose and proteins in foods. This is a more dangerous type and it is typical in almost all areas of hunger in the world. It is more lethal because every body part needs chemical energy to work. This energy comes from the calories we take in, in the form of carbohydrates and starch. 

The second type is called Micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency. Unlike PEM, the body can survive longer with this deficiency. This type is also called Hidden Hunger.

Malnutrition at an early age leads to reduced physical and mental development during childhood. Stunting, for example, affects more than 147 million pre-schoolers in developing countries, according to SCN’s World Nutrition Situation 5th report. Iodine deficiency, the same report shows, is the world’s greatest single cause of mental retardation and brain damage. Source: WFP

 WHO and FAO recommend a minimum daily intake of 400g of fruits and vegetables (excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers); levels lower than this are thought to increase the risk of chronic diseases. 

Sadly, many places with malnutrition also have poor water supply and waste disposal and tend to be in disease-prone areas. Malnourished children, therefore, easily fall victim to infections and viruses, as their bodies cannot fight infections. 

Why are micronutrients important? 

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. About 2 billion people in the world are afflicted by the lack of micronutrients. According to the World Health Organization, deficiencies of iron, vitamin A, and zinc rank among the top ten leading causes of death through disease in developing countries.