Malnutrition In Children

Your child's growth, especially in the early years, depends on a healthy diet. Healthy eating is especially important for mothers from the moment of conception till she is breastfeeding and child is first few years after birth are crucial for the development of the baby's brain and other vital organs. To promote the child's general development, it is crucial to have a balanced diet full of nutrients such vitamins, calcium, iron, fats, and carbohydrates. This page focuses on the definition of childhood malnutrition as well as its causes, symptoms, and treatment options for parents.

What Is Malnutrition?

When your child does not obtain the necessary nutrients, minerals, and calories that aid in the development of important organs in sufficient amounts, it is known as malnutrition. Your youngster needs nutrients to live a healthy, disease-free life. Multiple physical and behavioural issues can result from inadequate diet. Although they may be related, hunger and malnutrition are not the same. Malnutrition is a lack of adequate nutrients, whereas hunger is sensed when the stomach is empty. Deficiencies in undernourished children can cause stunted growth and chronic illness.

Types of Malnutrition in Children

Malnutrition affects more children each year, which is a severe worry for the entire world. Malnutrition can have serious, pervasive impacts on a person's health, including stunted growth, mental impairment, GI tract infections, anaemia, and even death. A balanced diet is crucial for a child's nutrition and health because malnutrition can result from both a shortage of nutrients and an imbalance in amount of those same nutrients.

Different Forms of Malnourishment

Inadequate consumption of vital micronutrients results in malnutrition, which is broken down into four categories.

  • Underweight: As the name implies, this is a condition when a kid remains underweight owing to wasting, stunting, or both, and their weight/height does not develop in accordance with their age. Growth failure malnutrition is another name for this condition. While inadequacies in weight can be remedied if the child's nutritional needs are met, deficiencies in height are more challenging to address.
  • Stunting: The condition of stunting in children, also known as chronic malnutrition, starts before birth as a result of the mother's poor health during pregnancy, which causes aberrant and disproportionate growth in the child. Stunting takes place over a lengthy time and as a result has long-lasting effects. Poor nursing, low food intake, and persistent illnesses are the main causes of a baby's stunting. Stunting is risky because, at a certain age, it becomes permanent. Therefore, it is crucial for expecting mothers to maintain good health during their pregnancies and provide their babies with extensive aftercare.
  • Micronutrient Deficiency: Malnutrition or micronutrient deficiency refers to the body's lack of micronutrients such folate, calcium, iodine, zinc, and selenium as well as critical vitamins like vitamin A, B, C, and D. Long-term deficiency in certain minerals results in micronutrient deficiencies. Each of these nutrients is important for the growth and health of the body's vital organs, and deficiencies in any one of them can cause anaemia, impaired brain development, thyroid dysfunction, rickets, weakened immunity, nerve degeneration, poor vision, and poor bone development.
  • Wasting/Acute Malnutrition: There are three different kinds of clinical malnutrition that result from wasting, or acute malnutrition:
    • Kwashiorkor: In this situation, fluid retention (bilateral pitting oedema) in the legs and feet makes the malnourished child appear chubby.
    • Marasmus: In this form of malnutrition, the body's tissues and body fat deteriorate rapidly to make up for the lack of nutrients. The immune system's activities and internal bodily processes are slowed down as a result.
    • Marasmic-Kwashiorkar: This hybrid of marasmus and kwashiorkor is known as marasmic-Kwashiorkar. Oedema and extreme wasting are its defining characteristics.

    Causes of Malnutrition in Children

    Malnutrition can be brought on by either a deficiency in or an overconsumption of important nutrients. In order to keep the body's nutrient levels adequate, it's crucial to eat a balanced diet. The reasons listed below can make your child malnourished.

    • Poor diet: Not getting enough food might leave a youngster undernourished since they won't get the essential nutrients they need. A diet that includes toxic and undigestible foods might result in a loss of appetite and malnutrition.
    • Irregular Diet: Indigestion and malnutrition can result from not eating at the right times and at regular intervals.
    • Digestive Diseases: Despite eating healthy food, some children may suffer from digestive disorders like Crohn's disease, celiac disease which prevents the body from properly absorbing nutrients.
    • Lack of Breastfeeding: It's crucial to breastfeed a newborn since breastmilk gives the baby essential nutrients that lay the groundwork for the child's development. Lack of breastfeeding puts the infant at risk of malnutrition.
    • Diseases: Children who have physical illnesses are at risk for malnutrition and need specialised attention and controlled eating habits.
    • Lack of Exercise: Insufficient exercise can cause the digestive process to slow down, which can result in malnutrition.

    Premature birth, severe vomiting or diarrhoea, congenital heart problems, and other chronic disorders are additional factors that contribute to malnutrition in children under the age of five.

    Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition in Children

    Depending on the type of nutritional deficiency a kid has, there are different signs and symptoms of malnutrition in newborns and children. Among the warning signs and symptoms of malnutrition are:

    • Tiredness and weariness
    • Irritability
    • Having a weak immune system makes you more susceptible to infections
    • Scaly and dry skin
    • Stunted, poor growth
    • Bloated abdomen
    • Longer healing times for injuries, illnesses, and ailments
    • Decreased muscle mass
    • Sluggish behavioural and intellectual growth
    • Mental function impairment and intestinal issues

    By adhering to straightforward diet plans and making sure that the child's eating habits are controlled and observed by the parents, malnutrition in children can be prevented. To prevent long-lasting and permanent harm to the child's health if they are malnourished, it is critical to identify the root reason and take urgent corrective measures.

    Dr. Ashu Sawhney
    Additional Director
    Department of Neonatology & Paediatrics
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