Child Malnutrition – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Most people think that child malnutrition is a problem only in underdeveloped countries. It is true that the majority of death cases involving malnutrition occur in these countries, especially on the African continent.

However, malnourished children are everywhere, including in countries considered to be 1st world countries such as the United States, Canada, England, among others.

What is Child Malnutrition?

Child malnutrition is not only characterized by extreme thinness as is widely thought, but also by the deficiency of nutrients in the body.

Children with poor eating habits, who live on fast food, soft drinks and sweets, not consuming foods rich in vitamins and minerals may be malnourished.

Generally these children are overweight or have some degree of obesity , so poor quality food is the main reason for child malnutrition in developed countries.

How does Child Malnutrition Happen?

Child malnutrition occurs when a child’s body does not receive an adequate amount of nutrients, calories and minerals. All of these essential components help in the growth process. In addition, the intake of vital nutrients increases the level of immunity and keeps you protected from harmful infections.

Another form of malnutrition can also occur if the child consumes an excessive amount of calories ( overnutrition ). It is important to maintain the right balance of calories, excess or lack of calories, can lead to malnutrition.

Child malnutrition leads to various health disorders . This deficiency affects physical health, behavior, mood, growth process and other bodily functions.

Types of Child Malnutrition

The most common types of malnutrition are:

Protein-Caloric Malnutrition

Due to the deficiency of protein and glucose in foods, the child experiences this type of malnutrition.

There are three subtypes of CPD:

  • Acute malnutrition – Acute malnutrition leads to rapid weight loss or inability to gain weight normally
  • Chronic malnutrition – In chronic malnutrition, the child suffers from problems with growth (stunting).
  • Acute chronic malnutrition – When the child suffers from acute and chronic malnutrition, he is underweight, in addition to experiencing numerous health problems.

Deficiency of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)

The lack of certain micronutrients can lead to deficiencies in a child’s body. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, and it needs those nutrients for your body to perform proper bodily functions and growth processes.

Causes of Child Malnutrition

Normally, the lack of essential nutrients and minerals triggers the condition of malnutrition. This severely affects quality of life and growth, and can lead to numerous health disorders.

Some of the most common causes are:

  1. Poor diet – Poor diet causes the child to suffer from nutrient deficiency.
  2. Mental health problems – Children with this condition may not follow an adequate eating habit. Children with mental illness from anorexia nervosa or bulimia eat a small amount of food and suffer from malnutrition.
  3. Digestive disorders and stomach conditions – Due to digestive disorders, the child’s body is unable to absorb the nutrients present in food. The body is deprived of vital nutrients, which will consequently experience malnutrition.
    Some digestive disorders that can trigger child malnutrition include:

    • Crohn’s disease
    • Ulcerative Colitis
    • Celiac disease
    • Constant vomiting and diarrhea
  4. Diabetes – Due to the increase in the blood sugar level, the diabetic child’s body cannot absorb the vital nutrients.
  5. Lack of breastfeeding – Breastfeeding helps babies stay healthy and free from disease. However, the lack of adequate breastfeeding can make the child unhealthy and, with age, he may suffer from malnutrition.
  6. Food shortages – Children who are deprived of a regular diet. In countries that cannot produce sufficient quantities of food for their population, this is where the biggest cases of malnutrition are.

Symptoms of Child Malnutrition

Some of the common symptoms of malnutrition are:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Depression
  • Fat loss (adipose tissue)
  • Higher risk of hypothermia – abnormally low body temperature
  • Weakened immune system
  • Reduced muscle mass

Other symptoms such as greater sensitivity to feeling cold, slower wound healing and longer recovery time from illnesses, in addition to loss of concentration. In more severe cases, the child may experience other symptoms such as:

  • Dry, pale, rough and cold skin;
  • Rough and dry hair;
  • Loss of hair;
  • Withered cheeks;
  • Deep Dark Circles

Due to calorie deficiency, the child may experience problems with heart, respiratory or liver failure.

Effects of Malnutrition on Children

Child malnutrition can lead to some complications that include:

  • Low immunity – Child malnutrition makes the immune system weak and susceptible to infectious diseases.
  • Growth problems – Nutritional deficiency combined with infections completely slows down the growth process.
  • Deficiency of specific nutrients – The deficiency of some specific nutrients can cause several problems in the child’s health.
  • Organ failure – Severe child malnutrition makes organs dysfunctional. Some of the organs highly affected by nutritional deficiency are liver, heart and kidneys.
  • Beginning of Harmful Diseases – Some diseases triggered by child malnutrition include gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection and pneumonia. In the case of overnutrition, obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure and some specific type of cancer are diseases that can affect the child.

Child malnutrition can also lead to other adverse effects such as:

  • Slow behavioral development;
  • Mental retardation;
  • Sarcopenia, or constant loss of body mass;
  • Learning difficulties;
  • Growth problem (dwarfism);
  • Reduction of problem-solving capabilities;
  • Reduction of social skills;
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Digestive disorders
  • Reduced language development
  • Severe weight loss

How is Child Malnutrition Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of child malnutrition is made on the basis of physical examinations . That is, the doctor examines the child’s weight and height and compares it to the chart that lists the expected weight and height based on age.

If it is extremely underweight it indicates that the child suffers from nutritional deficiencies. Other medical tests may be recommended, such as thyroid function tests, levels of calcium, zinc and vitamins, in addition to the complete blood count.

Treatment for Child Malnutrition

During the initial phase of child malnutrition, the child can obtain adequate treatment by adopting specific procedures at home . The monitoring of a nutritionist is essential at this stage, as he is the one who will observe the diet and make the appropriate changes.

The main objective is to improve the nutritional intake of the growing child. This helps to improve your immune system and prevent the condition from acute malnutrition.

In more severe cases such as acute malnutrition, the specialist treats the specific health disorder. If the child suffers from digestive disorders, the doctor prescribes effective medications.

Nasogastric tube feeding helps patients with severe malnutrition to acquire vital nutrients. If the child suffers from an extreme condition of malnutrition, the doctor suggests this procedure for treatment.

If the child suffers from chronic malnutrition, the doctor suggests regular clinical therapy as a prophylactic measure. In addition, she needs to take nutrients, vitamins and mineral supplements regularly.

How to Prevent Child Malnutrition?

Prevention for malnutrition is basically in a healthy diet, therefore, some measures must be adopted such as:

  • Encourage your child to eat nutrient-rich foods
  • Restrict foods that are harmful to your health.
  • Offer the child small meals at a regular time interval.
  • Encourage physical activity and sports

See also: IMC Infantil – Alert for Moms

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My name is Dr. Alexis Hart I am 38 years old, I am the mother of 3 beautiful children! Different ages, different phases 16 years, 12 years and 7 years. In love with motherhood since always, I found it difficult to make my dreams come true, and also some more after I was already a mother.

Since I imagined myself as a mother, in my thoughts everything seemed to be much easier and simpler than it really was, I expected to get pregnant as soon as I wished, but it wasn’t that simple. The first pregnancy was smooth, but my daughter’s birth was very troubled. Joana was born in 2002 with a weight of 2930kg and 45cm, from a very peaceful cesarean delivery but she had already been born with congenital pneumonia due to a broken bag not treated with antibiotics even before delivery.

Dr. Alexis Hart

My name is Dr. Alexis Hart I am 38 years old, I am the mother of 3 beautiful children! Different ages, different phases 16 years, 12 years and 7 years. In love with motherhood since always, I found it difficult to make my dreams come true, and also some more after I was already a mother. Since I imagined myself as a mother, in my thoughts everything seemed to be much easier and simpler than it really was, I expected to get pregnant as soon as I wished, but it wasn’t that simple. The first pregnancy was smooth, but my daughter’s birth was very troubled. Joana was born in 2002 with a weight of 2930kg and 45cm, from a very peaceful cesarean delivery but she had already been born with congenital pneumonia due to a broken bag not treated with antibiotics even before delivery.

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