An Introduction to the Current State of Malnutrition
"Malnutrition deprives humanity of scientists, creative artists, community and national leaders, and productive workers."
One of the primary challenges facing the world today is malnutrition. Malnutrition is a physical condition caused by the under- or overconsumption of essential nutrients. It is most directly caused by "inadequate availability of and access to safe, diverse, nutritious food; lack of access to clean water, sanitation and health care; and inappropriate child feeding and adult dietary choices."
Correct nutritional consumption-more so than calorie consumption-is most important to the survival and development of individuals during the period from conception to 2 years of age, also known as the first 1,000 days.
"The foundation of an individual's health and well-being is laid during the first years of life." Even up to 5 years of age, a child is at risk of suffering from disease, low birth weight, stunting, wasting, obesity, anemia, vitamin A deficiency or death from malnutrition.
The predominant indicator of micronutrient deficiency used to measure levels of malnutrition across the globe is stunting-when a child has a low height relative to his or her age.
"Stunting cannot generally be reversed or treated, but it can be prevented."
In many developing countries across sub-Saharan Africa and south-central China, a child may suffer from both stunting and overweight, clearly exhibiting physical abnormalities caused by the consumption of too many calories with low nutritional benefit as well as insufficient access to food supplements.
Historically, food aid to developing countries centered on caloric intake, with little attention to nutrition.
The world is starting to understand that working toward the elimination of malnutrition will uplift not only individuals and communities but humanity as a whole. A recent study by the World Health Organization shows that children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) can receive treatment locally and do not need a hospital for treatment.
Globally, it is estimated that there are nearly 20 million children who are severely acutely malnourished," while only 2 million received treatment for SAM in 2011-an improvement over 2009, when only 1 million were treated.
SAM is identifiable both before further complications develop and before a child's health deteriorates to the point of death, and there are simple and cost-effective solutions for it. "Improved intake of micronutrients, especially of vitamin A, iron and iodine, would strongly reduce mortality and morbidity among young children and women, and would significantly improve children's learning capacity."