- Under-nutrition – when your body doesn’t get enough nutrients
- Over-nutrition – when your body receives more nutrients than needed
Malnutrition originates not just from a lack of or excessive food, but from several interrelated processes. These processes include general health, food preparation, sanitation and hygiene, food storage amongst others. We shall focus on under-nutrition.
Under-nutrition is caused by a lack of nutrients in your diet, either due to a poor diet or problems absorbing nutrients from food.
Symptoms of malnutrition in a child can include:
- The child not growing at the expected rate or not putting on weight as would normally be expected (faltering growth)
- Getting ill often or taking a long time to recover from sickness
- Wasted muscles with flabby thighs
- Developmental delay
- Mental retardation
- Poor teeth growth
- Lack of natural hair shine i.e. dull and dry, thin and sparse, silky hair that easily falls
- Low reduced appetite and lack of interest in food and drinks
- Nails can be spoon-shaped and very brittle
- Low Energy levels and tiring more easily than other children
Under-nutrition in children is commonly caused by:
- poor dietary intake of foods
- lack of appetite
- disrupted digestion and food absorption due to illness
- increased demand for energy for bodily processes like growth and development
- Long-term health conditions e.g. Diabetes, heart disease, allergic diseases, cerebral palsy
Several factors are taken into account to check whether a child is malnourished or at a high risk of malnutrition.
Diagnosing malnutrition in children involves taking a measurement of their weight and height and comparing it against the expected average height and weight for a child of that age. Some children will be below average because they’re naturally smaller, but a significant drop below the expected level could indicate a risk of malnutrition.
A child may be considered at a high risk of malnutrition if:
- they have an illness which may reduce their appetite and thus they are likely to eat nothing for the next five days
- they don’t absorb nutrients from food well – for example, you having a condition, such irritable bowel or allergic to some food components that cause the digestive system to become inflamed
- they have disease condition such as cancer, HIV, and others which force the body to use up nutrients at a higher rate or have an increased need for nutrients
- they have difficulty eating and drinking
Blood tests may be used to measure: vitamin, mineral or protein deficiency.
The treatment of malnutrition depends on the underlying cause and how severe your child is malnourished. This may be treated at home as an outpatient or in very severe cases, may require admission into Hospital.
At home treatment will usually include, a nutritionist appointment to discuss and plan with you changes you should make to your child’s diet. Severely malnourished children need to be fed and rehydrated with great care. You cannot afford to give them a regular diet. Once their condition stabilises they can gradually be introduced to a normal diet
Your dietary plans will depend on your individual circumstances, but in most causes you’ll be advised to gradually increase your child’s intake of energy, protein, carbohydrates, fluids, and vitamin and minerals. The aim is to reduce your child’s risk of developing complications, such as infections, and to avoid hospital admission.
You may also be advised to take special nutritional supplements which can increase your child’s energy and protein intake. You’ll be helped to set targets and your progress will be regularly monitored by a nutritionist.
If your child can’t feed orally they may need an artificial method of feeding such as a feeding tube. These are fitted in hospital but can at times also be used at home
The prevention of malnutrition in children starts with an emphasis on prenatal nutrition and good prenatal care. Appropriate breastfeeding practices, timely vaccination and immunization and appropriate introduction of nutritious complimentary foods at 6 months.
The best way to ensure you get the correct amount of nutrients is to eat a healthy diet.
A healthy diet contains foods from all the major food groups in the appropriate portions according to age and nutritional status.
The four main food groups are:
- fruit and vegetables – at least 5 portions a day
- Carbohydrates – bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, cereals and other starchy foods
- Milk and dairy foods – such as cheese and yoghurt
- Meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and other non-dairy sources of protein
Foods and drinks high in fat or sugar aren’t essential for children and should only be consumed in small amounts.
At Imara mediplus hospital we have an experienced nutrition team that can help you prevent, identify and manage malnutrition. Personalized nutrition counselling by our team will build a foundation for your child’s health and wellness that will last for a lifetime. Call us on 0722353250 for more information or to book an appointment.