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All you need to know about Undernutrition

Undernutrition is a form of malnutrition resulting in poor health of an individual. It is the opposite of overnutrition.

Undernutrition is a condition resulting from not consuming enough nutrients though diet. It usually affects the balance of all the nutrients in your body. It is a common problem in both developing and developed countries. India is a developing country which need to address this health issue as soon as possible.

When undernutrition starts making its base in an individual, problems relating to deficiency in carbohydrates and fats manifest first. What happens is that the body starts using its glycogen or sugar reserves, stored water and body protein to combat this deficiency. Secondly, the body starts consuming stored fatty acids and lean muscle. These two effects of undernutrition result in a steep decrease in body weight and causes other related poor health conditions.

Undernutrition is not age or gender specific. It can strike anyone from infants to adults.

There are two types of causes to undernutrition- immediate and underlying

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Immediate causes Underlying causes
Poor diet- low in quantity and nutrient density Poor living conditions
Diseases- HIV-AIDS, diarrhea, measles inadequate health services

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  • Other reasons are – people may lack access to food because they cannot afford it. On the other hand, drinking too much alcohol which has calories but little nutritional value, decreases the appetite. It damages the liver and interferes with the absorption and use of nutrients. An excess of alcohol can cause deficiencies of various minerals like magnesium, zinc, and certain vitamins, including thiamine.

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  • Another reason can be smoking. It has the ability to dull the taste and smell of the food, making food less appealing. Smoking also causes other changes in the body that contribute to a low body weight. It stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which increases the body’s use of energy.

Similarly there are various consequences of undernutrition

  • It can results in both immediate and long-term consequences. In unborn infant it may lead to low birth weight babies. These babies thus become prone to morbidity, higher risk of cognitive and mental impairment and mortality.

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  • It is also very dangerous as it can lead to stunted adolescents who may end up as stunted adults. This type is accountable for 50% of all childhood deaths in the developing world. It has also been associated with adulthood chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension and coronary heart diseases and many more.

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  • It is more complicated when it comes to women. Furthermore, undernutrition may lead to obstetric complications that can result in increase in maternal and infant mortality. Additionally, several scientific reports say that undernourished women are more likely to have low birth weight children. This results in unending undernutrition cycle as it starts again and the effects end up spanning several generations. In girls, it may result in delayed menarche as undernourished girls produce less estrogen. The lower estrogen delays the age of menstruation in girls.

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  • Poor nutrition increases the risk of infectious disease like tuberculosis. According to a study in developing world, cancers of the liver, stomach and esophagus are more common. This results from consumption of carcinogenic preserved foods, such as smoked or salted food, and parasitic infections that attack organs.
  • Poor nutrition also creates psychological disorders. Like iodine deficiency is the most common cause of mental impairment worldwide. Even moderate iodine deficiency especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence.

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Undernutrition is a major problem in the World. Various programs and policies should be designed to prevent its hazards and curb its long-lasting effects. These programs should address particularly maternal and child health education, and should include a diet of good quality for pregnant women.

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