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Have you ever thought about your diet and whether or not you are getting the appropriate nutrients you need to remain healthy? In this lesson, we will describe the concept of malnutrition and explore the ways that people’s diets can be unbalanced. We will also discuss regions of the world where malnutrition is prevalent and why.

What is Malnutrition?

Think back on everything you have eaten over the last 24 hours. Do you think that your diet is well balanced and that you are getting the appropriate nutrients you need? Proper nutrition is very important to maintaining a healthy body and mind. The body requires over 40 essential nutrients to function properly, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, protein and carbohydrates.In addition to the quality of nutrients consumed, the body must also maintain a certain quantity of food to remain healthy. Humans must consume a certain amount of calories each day in order to maintain a productive and energetic lifestyle.A large problem facing the human population today is malnutrition. Malnutrition is when a person’s diet has an imbalance of the essential nutrients that the body needs to remain healthy.

This imbalance in nutrients can weaken the person’s immune system and body and make them more susceptible to illnesses. Malnutrition can also cause delays in a child’s physical and mental development.Malnutrition is often divided into two different types, which are under-nutrition and over-nutrition.

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These two different types of malnutrition vary by what the person is consuming, how it is influencing their body and the prevalence in certain regions of the world.

Under-Nutrition

When most people think of malnutrition, they often think of someone who is suffering from under-nutrition. Under-nutrition occurs when a person consumes a diet that does not meet the necessary requirements for the amount of essential nutrients or calories a person needs to remain healthy.This type of malnutrition can occur when people are not eating enough food, or when the food they are eating does not contain well-balanced nutrients.

The World Health Organization estimates that one out of every three people is suffering from a deficiency in one or more essential nutrients.The symptoms associated with under-nutrition vary by deficiency, but all deficiencies will eventually cause permanent harm to the body. Throughout the world, there are three common deficiencies that people suffer from. Lack of vitamin A in the diet is a very large problem worldwide and results in many cases of blindness in children each year. A deficiency in iron can cause a person to become anemic, which can result in fatigue, increased risk of infection and increased risk of hemorrhaging during childbirth.

Iodine deficiency is also very common, with one-third of the human population suffering from a lack of iodine. Iodine is important for proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which is responsible for producing hormones that manage the body’s metabolic rate. A lack of iodine can cause stunted growth, mental delays and the creation of goiters, which are when the thyroid glands at the base of the neck become swollen.

Prevalence of Under-Nutrition

Under-nutrition is most common in low-income, developing countries and is prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where access to a well-balanced diet is very limited. More specifically, almost two-thirds of the people that suffer from under-nutrition live in only seven countries, which include India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, China, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most people in these poor countries survive on diets that include low amounts of protein, high amounts of carbohydrates and are mainly vegetarian, with wheat, rice and corn as large staples in the diet.In many low-income, developing countries, people do not have access to well-balanced diets because of variations in local climate, political issues and increases in population. Specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, the climate is extreme and has limited rainfall, which reduces the amount of food that can be produced.Political unrest can also lead to under-nutrition when it results in food not being distributed equally to people of all social groups. Low-income, developing countries also suffer from dramatic increases in the human population, which can lead to less food available per person.

Over-Nutrition

Although over ten percent of the world is suffering from a lack of proper nutrition, there are some areas on Earth where food is plentiful, but people still exhibit a type of malnutrition. Over-nutrition occurs when a person consumes a diet that exceeds the necessary requirements for the amount of essential nutrients, or the amount of calories a person needs to remain healthy.In most cases, people who suffer from over-nutrition gain excess weight, and this can cause many serious problems to the human body.

Over-nutrition can lead to increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

Prevalence of Over-Nutrition

The World Health Organization recently reported that over 65% of the world’s population lives in countries where over-nutrition results in more death than under-nutrition. Currently, there are over 1.5 billion people worldwide that are suffering from over-nutrition and are considered overweight.

Over-nutrition is most prevalent in high-income, developed countries, such as the United States and regions of Europe.Within the United States, over 20% of children and 70% of adults are overweight due to over-nutrition. Also, in the United States, over 30% of adults that are overweight are classified as clinically obese, which is when a person is more than 30 pounds over the ideal weight for a person’s height and sex.

Over-nutrition is thought to occur in higher-income, developed countries because people have more access to unhealthy fast food, high-sugar drinks and processed foods and have limited access to fresh, healthy food options.

Lesson Summary

Now, let’s review what we have learned about malnutrition and where the different types are prevalent. Malnutrition is when a person’s diet has an imbalance of the essential nutrients that the body needs to remain healthy.The most well known type of malnutrition is under-nutrition, and this is when a person consumes a diet that does not meet the necessary requirements for the amount of essential nutrients or calories a person needs to remain healthy.

Under-nutrition occurs mainly in low-income, developing countries, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where people do not have access to well-balanced diets or enough food.On the opposite side of the malnutrition scale is over-nutrition, which is when a person consumes a diet that exceeds the necessary requirements for the amount of essential nutrients, or the amount of calories a person needs to remain healthy. Over-nutrition is very common in higher-income, developed countries, such as the United States, where people have increased access to fast foods and processed foods.Malnutrition, in both forms, is a very important issue facing the human population.

Both under-nutrition and over-nutrition can cause serious harm to the human body and can lead to lower life expectancy, greater risk of illness and lower productivity and life quality.In order to help reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, it is necessary to provide food aid to people that are suffering from under-nutrition and dietary education to people who have access to food but are suffering from over-nutrition because of bad personal choices. Although malnutrition may be more abundant in certain areas of the world, it is a global problem that may influence the whole population if the problem is not addressed.

Learning Outcomes

After completion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define malnutrition
  • Recognize the causes of the two types of malnutrition
  • Describe how the prevalence of under-nutrition and over-nutrition can be reduced
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