Malnutrition in Children: Causes, Prevention, Treatment

Children’s Health

Malnutrition in Children: Causes, Prevention, Treatment

Malnourished children can be found in all parts of the world.


According to The Hunger Project, a child dies every 10 seconds due to hunger-related diseases. 1 in 3 Filipino children below 5 years of age is malnourished due to extreme poverty and lack of basic health education in parents. What can you do to prevent this from happening to your child?

What is malnutrition?

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines malnutrition as “a state in which a deficiency (or excess) of energy, protein, and other nutrition causes measurable adverse effects on the body and on growth in children.” Lack of proper nutrition is the primary cause of malnutrition but there are also other circumstances which may increase their risk including:

  • Poor healthcare conditions
  • Undernourishment in lactating mothers
  • Unsanitary living conditions

Malnutrition in the Philippines

Undernutrition is one of the main problems in the Philippines where stunted growth is quite common in children, specifically for those who are experiencing poor living conditions. According to UNICEF, 3.6 million Filipino children aged five and below are underweight while about 4 million suffer from stunted growth. Another health concern for most of the Filipino population iodine deficiency which has a huge impact on the learning abilities and intelligence quotient (IQ) of children.

Symptoms

Livestrong explains that signs of early-onset malnutrition may not be evident at first; however, symptoms may worsen overtime if left untreated. Some indications of malnutrition include:

  • Significant weight loss – often accompanied by dizziness and fatigue.
  • Dry skin – may cause cracking of the skin
  • Bleeding gums – may lead to permanent damage (tooth decay)
  • Bone/muscle weakness – may worsen overtime (osteoporosis)<
  • Ascites (bloated abdomen) – usually worsens overtime
  • Decreased organ function – heart problems, decreased lung capacity,
  • Affected mental health - delayed reaction, dementia (in seniors)

Your child’s doctor may request for a measurement of his/her body mass index (BMI) to determine if your child’s weight is proportionate to his/her age, gender, and height.

Prevention

Living in a country where undernutrition is considered endemic is proof that most mothers struggle to provide proper nutrition to their children. Prevention is better than cure, so always make sure that your child gets his/her daily dose of the essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, A, D, B, iron, and calcium. Prepare healthy meals and exercise good hand hygiene at home. Sanitize utensils, drinking glasses and cookware to avoid food contamination. Discourage your children from consuming sweets and other processed foods which provide little to no nutritional value to their diets; you should add these healthy and affordable ingredients to your daily meals instead:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Milk
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Carrots
  • Citrus fruits
  • Fish

Promote daily exercise and physical activities in your household to boost your child’s immune system. Always consult your doctor before letting your child drink any kind of medication, including vitamins. Take note that nutritional supplements are not substitutes for prescribed medications and should still be paired with the right diet and exercise. Take your child to the nearest hospital/clinic that is equipped with the right staff and medical equipment if you notice signs of malnutrition.

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