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Malnutrition: Types, symptoms and effects

  • The most common form of malnutrition in the world is protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). In developing countries, inadequate intake of protein and energy is all too common, especially in infants and young children. While the symptoms of protein-energy insufficiency vary widely from case to case, it is common to classify most cases as either marasmus or kwashiorkor. Marasmus comes as a result of inadequate intake of both protein and energy whereas kwashiorkor is an insufficient intake of protein with adequate intake of energy. Often the diet associated with marasmus and kwashiorkor is similar.

    How to recognise malnutrition

    Recognizing malnutrition at the early stage is one of the crucial steps in eradicating it. Malnutrition is often most severe in children especially among the poor, who need lots of nutritious food to grow well and stay healthy. Recognising malnutrition is as good as knowing one's nutritional needs. Eating these kinds of food can nourish and energise one's body.

    Mile malnutrition

    This is the most common malnutrition, but less obvious. The child does not grow or gain weight as fast as a well-nourished child. He may look small and thin, but may not necessarily look sick. However, because he is poorly nourished, he may lack strength/ resistance to fight infections. So he becomes more severely ill and takes longer to get well than a well-nourished child.

    Children with this form of malnutrition suffer more from diarrhoea and colds. Their colds usually last longer and are more likely to turn into measles, pneumonia, tuberculosis and many other infectious diseases are far more dangerous for these malnourished children, more of them die.

    It is vital that children like this get special care and enough food before they become seriously ill. This is why regular weighing or measuring around the middle upper arm of young children is so necessary. It helps us to recognise mild malnutrition early and correct it.

    Severe malnutrition

    Severe malnutrition is divided into two: dry malnutrition called marasmus, or wet malnutrition or kwashiorkor.

    In the dry malnutrition or marasmus, the marasmic infant will have a thin, wasted appearance and will be small for his /her age and a little more than skin and bone. If protein-energy malnutrition continues long enough, the child will be permanently stunted in both physical and mental development. Therefore, the child needs more food especially energy foods that can nourish him and prevent him from malnutrition.

    The wet malnutrition or kwashiorkor, the child’s feet, hands and face are swollen the patient or child usually have a deceptively plump appearance due to oedema because the child does not eat enough ‘bodybuilding’ helper foods (proteins). Other symptoms associated with kwashiorkor are dry, brittle hair, diarrhoea, dermatitis of various forms and retarded growth. In Africa, particularly the dry part, plain lack of food (and protein) leads to dry malnutrition (starvation).

    The most devastating result of both marasmus and kwashiorkor has reduced the ability of the afflicted individual to fight off infection. They have a reduced number of T-lymphocytes (and thus diminished cell-mediated immune response) as well as defects in the generation of phagocytic cells and production of immunoglobins, inferno and other components of the immune system. Many of these individuals die from secondary infections, rather than from starvation.

    In conclusion, to prevent malnutrition, feed children whenever possible with fresh food that has not been stored for long and make sure that the food contains enough’ bodybuilding’ helper foods to give them protein and as well ensure a balanced diet.

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