Overview of Malnutrition
There is international consensus that malnutrition is the greatest single source of poverty, ill health and underdevelopment in the world today. It is also agreed that preventing malnutrition amongst young children is the most cost effective intervention to stimulate economic growth (World Bank 2005, Copenhagen Consensus, 2008).
In children there are two basic types of malnutrition:
(a) Acute malnutrition (the classic picture of starvation often seen on TV during famines), and
(b) Chronic malnutrition (hidden hunger that is not obvious but irreversibly damages a child’s mind and body).
The two conditions are not mutually exclusive – acute malnutrition often develops in a child who is chronically malnourished.
(a) Acute malnutrition is the condition that develops when people do not have access to the vital nutrients that their body needs to function, leaving them vulnerable to fatal disease. There are two forms of acute malnutrition:
- Severe acute malnutrition (severe starvation) is the most extreme form which, if not treated, leads to death. This affects 20-25 million children globally (UNICEF, 2007, 2011).
- Moderate acute malnutrition (moderate starvation) is less severe but leads to severe acute malnutrition if it goes untreated. It affects approximately 40 million children globally (UNICEF, 2011).
Chronic malnutrition also referred to as “hidden hunger”, is the condition that develops when children do not eat the correct balance of nutrients in the first 1,000 days of their life, resulting in the irreversible stunting of their mental and physical development. This significantly reduces educational attainment – no matter what support may subsequently be provided. Furthermore, increased ill health, sub-optimal earning capacity and greatly reduced life expectancy all result in huge economic costs to the developing countries.
This is an invisible but preventable global problem; it damages the health and prosperity of over one third of all people in developing countries; affects approximately 200 million children worldwide at any one time (UNICEF, 2010; De Onis et al, 2011) and is the largest cause of child death and poverty in the world (World Bank, 2006).