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The Truth About Malnutrition

As soon as we hear the word ‘malnutrition’, we’re struck with images of starving children with protruding bones, stunted growth and dry hair. Most of us would never think of an overweight child as malnourished. But malnutrition comes in various forms. The World Health Organization defines it as referring to ‘deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients’.

The term covers 2 broad groups of conditions:

  • Under nutrition – Stunting (low height in proportion to age), wasting (low weight in proportion to height), underweight (low weight in proportion to age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies
  • Overweight – Obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, macronutrient overages and micronutrient deficiencies/insufficiencies

Typically, malnutrition is of two major types:

  • Protein-energy malnutrition
  • Micronutrient-related malnutrition

In India, malnourishment is a rampant condition. About one-third of Indians are believed to be malnourished and over 40% of Indian children receive less food than they should.

Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Reduced immunity
  • Reduced ability to heal wounds
  • Loss of muscle mass, body tissue and body fat

In extreme cases:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Thin, dry, inelastic or pale skin
  • Weak, lifeless and dry hair
  • Hollow cheeks
  • Sunken eyes

Eventually, behavioural and intellectual development may also slow down resulting in learning difficulties.

Conditional Malnourishment

  • Lack of balanced diet
  • Negligent eating habits
  • Bodily diseases
  • Lack of exercise
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Use of certain medicines that hinder absorption of nutrients
  • Unclean surroundings

Responding to and Remedying Malnourishment

  • Encourage healthy food choices by enhancing awareness among people on locally, seasonally available healthy vegetarian and non-vegetarian food
  • Maximise healthy choices of food
  • Emphasise the importance of a balanced diet and a regularised meal pattern
  • Ensure proper hydration
  • Find healthy ways of consuming high-calorie foods
  • Seek vitamin-mineral supplements to correct deficiencies after acquiring a medical prescription from a doctor
  • Exercise adequately to enhance and maintain metabolism
  • Strive to lose body weight if overweight or obese
  • Aim to get at least 7 to 8 hours of undisturbed sleep
  • Accommodate a healthy lifestyle by moderating choice of eat-outs and work-life balance
  • Strive to maintain an even temperament
  • Make time for hobbies
  • Check vitamin D level at least once in a year