The Malnutrition Crisis

by Michael_Koger

Malnutrition is a worldwide public health problem especially in babies and children less than five years of age.

Acute malnutrition affects approximately 55 million infants and small children across the globe. Twenty million preschool children develop severe acute malnutrition which is the most serious form of this medical condition. A third of childhood deaths under the age of five are the result of it. More than 90 percent of people with nutrient imbalance and deficiency reside in developing countries [1, 2].

Though malnutrition in general is often the result of poverty, it can also be the result of chronic medical conditions such as malabsorption, cancer, inability to effectively chew or swallow food, infectious disease, and lack of access to obtain food. Barriers against the purchase of food may include poverty, inadequate transportation, war, conflict, drought, natural disaster, and other situations that lead to disruption in agriculture, family life, and internal displacement [1].

In 1982, there were 164 million impoverished people in sub-Saharan Africa, and by 2002, the figure had increased to 313 million [1].

Medical Conditions

Chronic medical conditions and malnutrition present a vicious cycle for patients.  Specifically, undernutrition impairs the medical management of these diseases, and the illnesses interfere with the person’s ability to maintain good nutritional status.  For example, human immunodeficiency virus infection may lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, and cachexia, and this hampers the benefit of antiretroviral agents which are for its treatment [1, 2].

This interaction is of especial concern for children as approximately two million cases of human immunodeficiency virus infection worldwide are in pediatric clients, and 90 percent of those reside in sub-Saharan Africa [2].

Childhood Undernutrition

It follows, therefore, that malnutrition in children may lead to morbidity and mortality.  They may have problems with intellectual development and body growth.  As adults, they may have predisposition for other medical conditions.  Childhood undernutrition generally occurs between six and 18 months of age; however, there are many occurrences during the first six months of life [1, 2].

Moreover, the capacities of malnourished children for academic achievement, employment productivity, and to earn money may not be very good later in life.


There has been a longstanding global crisis with regard to nutrition, and its presence affects family life, economy, education, and several other issues each year.


  1. Action Against Hunger.  (2012).  What is acute malnutrition?  Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  2. World Health Organization.  (2013).  Updates on the management of severe acute malnutrition in infants and children.  Guidelines.  Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  3. The photograph shows lower extremities of a patient with multiple vitamin deficiencies and skin changes as a result.  Reprinted with permission from Centers for Disease Control.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 12/29/2013, Michael_Koger
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