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Causes of Malnutrition

Decreased or disproportionate intake of nutrients is a serious phenomenon worldwide, especially in the third world countries. Let's look at the various causes of malnutrition to understand its workings and how it can be avoided.
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Malnutrition is a serious nutritional condition which affects a good part of the global population. The fact that third world nations and many developing countries are victims to the wiles of malnutrition is well-known - what many of us are not aware of is the fact that many developed countries also face the problem of malnutrition! This is one of the most astounding malnutrition facts! Shocking as this revelation may sound, it's true. You see, one of the most common misconceptions about the causes of malnutrition is that it is caused by lack of nutrition alone whereas the truth is that as much as it is brought on by lack of food or nutrition, malnutrition is also caused by disproportionate intake of nutrition. Take, for example, the young people of the present generation. Most youngsters, belonging to affluent families, often fall victim to diseases caused due to malnutrition owing to their preference for junk food at the cost of avoiding regular healthy meals! Junk food may be loaded with calories but do not add anything to our bodies other than fats and carbs, when the body needs proportionate amounts of other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, calcium and proteins also! This article is an attempt to dissolve such and many other misconceptions surrounding the malnutrition and its causes!

Malnutrition Causes

Detailed below are some of the common and most significant causes that lead to malnutrition. Check them out to avoid falling victim to this nutritional disorder.

Poverty: This is the most common cause of malnutrition in poor and under-developed economies. The inability to afford food to feed oneself and one's family is perhaps the most unfortunate and hopeless personal calamity that can ever be experienced. Poverty forces the stricken to often go to sleep at night with an empty stomach with little or no hope for dietary nourishment the next morning, if at all such a morning comes in his life! Poverty-induced malnutrition is mostly in the form of lack of nutrition rather than disproportionate intake.

Diet and Lifestyle: As much as under-eating, overeating and eating the wrong foods on a regular basis are major factors that lead to malnutrition. This form of malnutrition can mostly be seen in developed countries and affluent economies. Absence of breastfeeding is among the major malnutrition causes in infants. Excessive consumption of only one type of food or sustaining on a single source of nutrition can also lead to lack of proportionate nutrition. Say, for instance, if a person lives solely on rice or eats only pasta, he may be getting the benefits of these foods but his body is getting deprived of the other nutrients that are present in other food items like dairy, pulses, poultry, etc. Coupled with this, a sedentary lifestyle which leads to loss of appetite is also a culprit. How many children go out to play in the fields these days at the cost of missing out on the long hours they spend watching the television or playing video games? Sedentary lifestyle and junk food culture in developed countries are among major reasons behind improper nutrient intake and malnutrition in children and young adults these days, making way for malnutrition diseases like anemia, goiter, kwashiorkor, marasmus, etc.

Agriculture and Environment: Obsolete farming technologies and lack of farming skills can decrease agricultural productivity and lead to food shortages. Also, climatic and environmental calamities which destroy crops and harvest can also lead to wastage or shortage of agricultural produce.

Cycle of Malnutrition

Malnutrition follows a vicious cycle. Malnutrition symptoms like edema, anemia, brittle hair and nails, scaly skin, rapid weight loss and appetite loss, joint pain, irritability, fatigue, dizziness, constipation, etc. indicate a decreased vitality and a weakened immune and metabolic system. The metabolic system is the first and the worst affected by malnutrition. Let's look at the vicious cycle of malnutrition in detail.
  • A malnourished person lacks vital nutrients like proteins, vitamins and minerals which are vital for regenerating and repairing tissues, including tissues of the digestive system.
  • Due to this reason, the damaged tissues of the stomach and gut do not get renewed, leaving them in a weakened state.
  • A weak digestive system is unable to extract necessary nutrients from food which is consumed.
  • This weakened nutrition-absorbing ability further leads to decreased absorption of nutrition by the digestive system.
  • Accordingly, the health, immunity and vigor of the victim of malnutrition begins its descent in a downward spiral.
Alongside the causes of malnutrition, one of the major facts about it is that it can exist in many different forms. In case of disproportionate nutrition gap, malnutrition can take the form of protein malnutrition, vitamin (A, B, C,.....) malnutrition, calcium malnutrition, and so on. Hence, as we can see, it is not just about eating enough - it is equally about eating wisely and proportionately accompanied by a physically active lifestyle!
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Last Updated: September 26, 2011
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