Malnutrition and the Impact on Health

Malnutrition is a public health issue affecting children under the age of five worldwide. 50% of the 10-11 million children under the age of 5 die each year from malnutrition and the preventable health consequences (Collins et al., 2006). Malnutrition is a result of inadequate nutrition to support growth and development of infants and young children. The absence of the essential macro and micronutrients such as protein-specific fats, vitamins and minerals contribute to maternal and child nutrition (Schwarzenberg & Georgieff, 2018). Maternal and child nutrition is essential for both the mother and child both in utero and in the first two years after birth (Schwarzenberg & Georgieff, 2018). Malnutrition in infants and children can be undernutrition or obesity. Usually malnutrition is associated to children being underweight.

On the contrary, malnutrition is a child being either underweight or obese. Undernutrition is having inadequate amounts of the macro and or micronutrients compared to obesity, where excessive calories often at the expenses of crucial nutrients (Schwarzenberg & Georgieff, 2018). Both forms of malnutrition, inadequate and excessive amounts, put the individual at higher risk of health consequences such as issues with neurodevelopment, illnesses, and growth.

What are the reasons malnutrition is prevalent among children, especially in low to middle-income countries? Well, there are several reasons why malnutrition is a global crisis affecting half of the children in the world causing death among children age five and younger. Mothers are unable to provide inadequate nutrition due to the community or environment where they reside. Food insecure households and community is one of the contributing factors to lack of nutritious foods. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecure household as access to adequate food being limited by lack of money and other resources (Schwarzenberg & Georgieff, 2018). One of the reasons malnutrition is prevalent in many countries is due to lack of access to adequate food, access to resources and money to provide for the household. Many children in different parts of the world are affected by malnutrition and its health consequences as a result of insufficient resources to provide adequate nutrition for their family. Research has shown that a poor home environment, access to nutritious foods and lack of access to health services are strictly related to malnutrition (Bamford et al., 2018).

Maternal nutrition contributes mostly to a child or infant being malnourished and stunted in development. The World Health Organization defines stunting as a child being short for his or her age (Dewey & Begum, 2011). Stunting affects one-third of children under age 5 in low to middle-income countries. Stunting goes unrecognized by families because many of these community’s short stature is common. When a mother is not getting adequate nutrition during pregnancy, such as vitamins and minerals including iron, the fetal growth and birthweight are compromised (Dewey & Begum, 2011). The first two years after birth is very crucial. Therefore, nutritional requirements are essential to support rapid growth and development. Lack of nutritious diet can have a permanent effect on child growth and development. Unfortunately, children who are stunted as a child and infant, tend to grow up to be stunted adults (Dewey & Begum, 2011). Stunting is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from infections such as pneumonia and diarrhea (Onis & Branca, 2016).

Malnutrition is a worldwide issue affecting children and their growth and development. The next question is what interventions are in place to reduce malnutrition and the health consequences associated with it? The World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a response which will address the maternal, infant and young child nutrition globally. The objective is to reduce the number of stunting by 40% among children under five years by 2025 (Onis & Branca, 2016). Countries are expected to define how they will contribute and set a target for their country in order to achieve the objective. Besides countries are raising awareness and implementing the program to address malnutrition and is health consequences (Onis & Branca, 2016). Finally, malnutrition is a public and global health issue, but with proper interventions and programs, there is hope that hunger can be reduced worldwide.


Collins, S., Dent, N., Binns, P., Bahwere, P., Sadler, K., & Hallam, A. (2006). Management of severe acute malnutrition in children. The lancet, 368(9551), 1992-2000.

De Onis, M., & Branca, F. (2016). Childhood stunting: a global perspective. Maternal & child nutrition, 12, 12-26.

Dewey, K. G., & Begum, K. (2011). Long?term consequences of stunting in early life. Maternal & child nutrition, 7, 5-18.

Schwarzenberg, S. J., & Georgieff, M. K. (2018). Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics, e20173716.

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