Broadly speaking, malnutrition refers to both under-nutrition (sub-nutrition) or over-nutrition. It also pertains to nutrition that contains the wrong proportion of necessary vitamins and food groups.
Malnutrition causes more problems in infants and toddlers than any other age group, as it may lead to (both physical and mental) retardation and make them more prone to infections.
Common causes of childhood malnutrition
Lack of Nutritious and Balanced Diet: Lack of vitamins, minerals and nutrients in a diet is one of the primary reasons for malnutrition in children. Children often indulge in junk and processed foods with no nutritional value.
Irregular Diets – Frequent snacking, binge eating and irregular meal times result in indigestion and cause malnutrition. Understand the importance of discipline in diet and set a good example for your kids.
Digestive Disorder: Some children suffer from certain conditions which prevent their bodies from absorbing the nutrients. So despite consuming balanced diet, they become victims of malnutrition. Celiac disease is one such condition which requires individual to follow a restrictive diet and limits the intake of nutrients.
Inactive lifestyle – Lack of exercise, sports and excessive screen time slows down the body metabolism adversely affecting the absorption of nutrients.
Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition
Stunting or Wasting– Low height for age or low weight for height is a common symptom. Checking BMI (Body Mass Index) helps to access it. For newborn babies height weight formula can be applied to know the growth.
Unplanned Weight loss – If there have been a sudden weight loss or lack of appetite you should talk to your doctor to diagnose for malnutrition.
Behavioral Changes –Irritable, sluggish and depressed kid can be a sign of malnutrition.
Severe cases of Malnutrition – Thin/ extremely dry or pale skin, dry/ sparse hair should be taken as serious signs.
Blood Tests – Malnutrition can be diagnosed in smaller kids through blood tests.
Treatment and Prevention
Malnutrition increases the risk of many health problems and diseases like vitamin deficiencies, iron deficiencies, obesity and correct treatment is essential to avoid long-term effects.
- Talk to the doctor about treatment as different causes and levels of malnutrition needs different treatment
- Under the supervision of a dietitian create a diet plan to increase the intake of nutrients gradually.
- Supplements of vitamins and minerals are often prescribed as a part of treatment.
- Children with protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) need to be identified as they might require more aggressive therapy. They are often recommended protein bars and supplements to remove the deficiency.
- Monitor your child’s BMI regularly, in order to check the improvement or responsiveness of dietary interventions.
- Imbibe healthy food habits and regular meal times in your family. Discourage packaged drinks and junk food which are only calorie rich and provide no nutritional value.
- Encourage your child to participate in physical activities and reduce TV or screen time.
- The underlying cause needs to be treated well to prevent malnutrition.
The sooner you recognize and treat the condition of malnutrition – the quicker your child will spring back to health and desired growth.