Malnutrition - An Overview

Acute malnutrition is one of the major public health problems in developing countries like India and one of the contributing causes for high rates of mortality and morbidities among children and mothers. It is an underlying cause of about 50% deaths in children.

The prevalence of underweight children in India (47%) is among the highest in the world. (Source: NFHS III 2005-06). In India, child malnutrition is mostly the result of high levels of exposure to infection and inappropriate Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) and caring practices, and has its origins almost entirely during the first two to three years of life. Besides increasing risk of death and disease, under nutrition includes a wide array of effects in U5 population including, IUGR resulting in low birth weight babies, underweight, stunted, wasted children and less visible micronutrient deficiencies. The Lancet, "Maternal and Child Under nutrition" Special Series, January 2008 cites that focus is required on the "Window of Opportunity" from minus 9 to 24 months (i.e. from pregnancy to two years old) for high impact in reducing death, disease and avoiding irreversible harm. Under nutrition also results in repeated bouts of infectious diseases causing a heavy toll of preventable child deaths annually.

Within the country itself, malnutrition occurs unevenly, with the central state of Madhya Pradesh witnessing the very highest rates of underweight children under the age of three. As per NHFS-3 (2005-06) Madhya Pradesh has the highest burden of underweight (60%) and SAM (12.6%) children. Though the situation has improved with a decline of underweight children to 51.7% and severe wasting to 8.3% in U5 children (NIN 2010); suggesting that the State's efforts in curbing malnutrition have been fruitful. Likewise, there has also been a decline of 21.2 points in the U5MR, i.e. from 94.2 (NFHS III 2005-06) to 73 (SRS 2012).

Understanding Malnutrition

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a general term. It most often refers to undernutrition resulting from inadequate consumption, poor absorption or excessive loss of nutrients, but the term can also encompasses over-nutrition, resulting from excessive intake of specific nutrients. An individual will experience malnutrition if the appropriate amount of, or quality of nutrients comprising for a healthy diet are not consumed for an extended period of time.

How can undernutrition be measured?

In children, undernutrition is synonymous with growth failure - undernourished children are shorter and lighter than they should be for their age/height. To get a measure of malnutrition in a population, young children are weighed and/or their height is measured and the results compared to those of a 'reference population' known to have grown well.

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