Malnutrition is a state in which a prolonged lack of one or more nutrients retards physical development or causes specific clinical disorders, e, g, iron deficiency anemia, goiter, etc. Malnutrition can also be defined as an impairment of health resulting from a deficiency, excess or imbalance of nutrients. It includes under nutrition and over nutrition. Kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency disease highlights this fact since in most cases of kwashiorkor, a the cause is intake of poor quality protein rather than inadequate quantity, over a prolonged period of time.
Some characteristics of people suffering from malnutrition are dull lifeless hair, greasy pimpled facial skin, dull eyes, slumped posture; fatigue and depression are easily evident by their spiritless expression and behavior and lack of interest in their surroundings. Such people may be underweight or overweight. Sleep may be affected and also the elimination habits. Constipation is a common problem.
The problem of malnutrition cannot be taken lightly as it may sometimes prove fatal. It may also cripple a person for the whole life, e. g. deficiency of vitamin A in children leads to blindness.
A disease which results from lack of a certain nutrient is known as a deficiency disease, e. g. iron deficiency anemia, is a very common deficiency disease in women and young girls.
Menstrual losses and increased needs in pregnancy are some of the causes of anemia.
Persons prone to malnutrition are infants, pre-school children, adolescents, pregnant women and elderly people. Pregnant women are especially prone to malnutrition if they are adolescents and not mature enough to bear children.
Infants and pre-school children are dependent on their mother for nourishment and if her selection of foods for them is incorrect, they may suffer from malnutrition. During the process of weaning most poor children are prey to faulty nourishment since they may be fed sago kanji (gruel) as a substitute for milk and no other foods providing good quality protein. Sago kanji supplies carbohydrates but very little proteins and lack of proteins in the diet may result in severe wasting of body tissues. This may lead to multiple deficiencies and kwashiorkor results. This , in many cases, is fatal or if the child on treatment does survive, it may leave its effect in the form of an under – developed brain. Hence the period of infancy, i. e. from birth to 18 months is a very crucial period and thus protein quality and quantity in diet should be taken care of.
Usually, adolescents eat often but irregularly and mostly the wrong kind of food. Snack items such as potato wafers, popcorn, cakes, soft drinks, candies, Pepsi colas are their favorite foods. These foods not only supply very limited nutrients but also cause a feeling of fullness. Such hollow or empty calorie foods should not be allowed liberally. However, at this age what their friends eat and do is what matters most to them. Crash diets are also commonly seen in this age group. The resulting malnutrition due to wrong choice / selection of foods is evident in an adolescent either in the form of anemia or lack of stamina and their school work is affected.
Pregnancy and lactation are stress periods in women’s life. The women’s appetite increases remarkably and so does the need for nutrients. The fast growing fetus has to be continuously nourished. This stress has to be even more carefully managed when the mother – to- be is an adolescent. Her own growing needs as well as those of the fetus put a burden on her body. The birth weight and health of a new – born is influenced by its mother’s nutritional well – being during pregnancy. Lactation also needs careful attention to food intake and its quality, since the quality of the mother’s milk and the length to which she can satisfactorily feed her child depends on it.
Old people are also malnourished many a tome as they may be unwell or not properly looked after. Poor eating may result in poor nutritional status in the old people. Dietary restrictions due some disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. may add to this.
Malnutrition results in most of us since we do not to our body’s daily requirements. As mentioned in the definition, malnutrition is evident as a deficiency disease, e. g. rickets in children due to calcium – vitamin D deficiency. Also malnourished people are prone to continuous bouts of some illness or the other which affects their work very often. This condition can be easily set right if we eat right foods in the right amount daily, i. e. if we consume a balanced diet everyday and develop good eating habits for good health.
A balanced diet, in short, is a diet which contains all the nutrients in the right amounts as required by an individual’s body needs.