It might be easy to think of malnutrition as a third world problem. But thousands, if not millions, of Americans fall into this category as well. It’s estimated that around 690 million people (1) worldwide are malnourished.
Malnutrition affects every country in the world. Young and old, there is no playing favorites. The window from the womb to about 2 years old is critical for laying the foundation for nutrition, yet many kids are not getting the proper variety of vitamins, minerals, fibers and probiotics.
What is Malnutrition Awareness Week?
During the first week of October, healthcare professionals are educated on what malnutrition is, how to spot it in both youth and adults, and what can be done about it.
It can also be used as a discussion point between doctors and patients. For patients recovering from eating disorders, those with serious medical conditions, and those in various recovery programs.
What is an Example of Malnutrition?
According to the World Health Organization (2), malnutrition can be “any deficiencies, excess, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.” Different forms of malnutrition include:
- Wasting: This applies to those who are much thinner than the average weight for their specific age range. It can apply to those who lost weight suddenly, either by illness or lack of sufficient food.
- Stunting: This term refers to being much shorter than the average height for a specific age range. In 2020, roughly 149 million children were estimated to be stunted.
- Underweight: This applies to being under an average weight for a specific age range. Someone who is underweight can be wasted, stunted, or even both.
- Deficiencies: This term applies to someone who isn’t getting the vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients needs to grow and thrive. Both underweight and overweight people can have deficiencies.
- Overweight: While an overweight person may not lack in the amount of food they are getting, they can still be malnourished in that they are not getting the nutrients their bodies need. An excess of empty calories like soda, chips, cookies, crackers, and other junk food will still meet a person’s calorie needs, even if those calories offer no actual nutrition.
Malnutrition can impair the immune system, making it easier for you to get sick. And in more extreme cases, it can increase your chances of dying.
What are some of the most common causes for malnutrition in people? Some of the biggest reasons (3)✝✝ can be:
- Low income: Unfortunately some of the worst foods for you are also the most affordable. When having to choose between TV dinners or a bag of oranges, many will opt for the TV dinners because they will be more filling.
- Limited variety: Certain demographics in the country may not have a wide selection of foods to choose from. In situations like that, your choices are limited.
- Alcoholism: Frequent alcohol consumption can mess with the way your body is able to take in nutrients. It can also
- Health issues: Dental issues, dementia, or other chronic health issues can make it hard for some people to eat on a regular basis.
- Depression: This can impact people on so many levels – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Physically, it can suppress their appetite so the feelings of hunger are no longer there.
- Lack of social interaction: If someone is use to eating with a lot of people and for whatever reason is not anymore, the need to eat may not sound as appealing.
- Medication: Some medication can reduce your appetite so you don’t feel as hungry.
How is It Diagnosed?
Doctors, nutritionists and other caregivers can implement a two-step approach (4) formulated by the Global Leadership Initiative of Malnutrition (GLIM) when it comes to diagnosing cases in people.
The first step involves what’s called the phenotypic criteria. This basically means how the person looks in regards to weight, height, etc. The second is called the etiologic criteria, which is the “why” behind someone could be malnourished (disease, income status, etc.)
Together, the severity and type of malnutrition can be diagnosed. From there, treatment can begin.
How Do You Beat Malnutrition?
Preventing malnutrition takes a group effort. You may not notice unhealthy habits in your own life – that’s why it’s important to be open to hearing outside advice.
And while not all advice is sound, many health professionals want their patients, colleagues and those in their spheres to be and feel their best.
Some practical steps (3) you can take with those around you are:
- Add spices to enhance food taste: Nobody likes bland food. Thankfully, there are lots of different spices and herbs that can bring life back to certain foods – just remember to consider the salt intake.
- Encourage healthy choices: If you grew up eating certain foods, it might be hard to give it up. Even if someone you know loves their biscuits and gravy, encouraging them to add a banana or fruit smoothie to the mix can help fill in nutritional gaps.
- Make it a social event: Some people don’t like eating alone. Thinking about ways to have them around others – whether that be a restaurant, block party, or even a friend – can help them keep their appetite up.
- Snacking: While snacking isn’t something that benefits everyone, it may help get extra nutrients into those who tend to feel full quickly at meal time.
- Add supplements: If it comes to this point, it may be necessary to add supplements into your diet. There’s a wide variety of what this can look like, too – shakes, capsules, tablets, or even gummies may help when food can’t.
- Encourage exercise: People weren’t made to be sedentary. Like water, stagnation can introduce disease and deterioration. Even small efforts like walking around the block, taking the dog for a stroll, or 30 minutes of low-impact cardio can stimulate and encourage your body to function properly.
There’s no question that you have to eat to live. And while modern society has done a lot in efforts to make food more available and affordable, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Malnutrition awareness week recognizes the fact that millions of people are not getting either enough food, or enough of the right nutrients. This can happen for a lot of different reasons.
The good news is that there are some things that can be done about it. Offering healthy options, eating with other people, staying active and taking supplements where needed can help bring about a more whole picture of health.
Are there areas you can improve on when it comes to nutrition? Check out our list of natural supplements here (5).
References & Disclaimers
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author