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Malnutrition awareness week

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Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s energy intake and nutrients. (Photo: Shutterstock)
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October 4–8 represents malnutrition awareness week. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders specified that their goals for this week were to raise awareness by educating healthcare professionals about early detection and treatment of malnutrition and inform the general public on the importance of discussing their nutritional status with healthcare professionals. Although the week has already passed, we would still like to do our part in spreading awareness about malnutrition in Jordan. اضافة اعلان

What is malnutrition?

The definition of malnutrition is in the name itself. The Latin prefix mal- meaning “bad” or “poor,” and nutrition is generally defined as the process of providing the foods necessary for health and growth. 

When people think of the term malnutrition, the first thought is to underfed individuals, but this term encompasses both ends of the spectrum, undernutrition, and overnutrition. 

In short, malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s energy intake and nutrients. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are three broad groups of conditions to malnutrition. 

The first condition is undernutrition, which includes wasting, stunting, and being underweight. Wasting is also known as low weight-for-height, and it usually represents a recent and severe weight loss. There are many causes for wasting, such as lack of food intake or infectious diseases, especially those causing diarrhea. In children, wasting is particularly devastating as moderate to severe wasting could increase the risk of death. 

Stunting is also known as low height-for-weight and is the result of chronic or recurrent undernutrition. There are many causes of stunting; many are associated with poor socioeconomic conditions, poor maternal health and nutrition, frequent illness, and inappropriate infant and young child feeding and care in the early stage of life. 

Stunting is a term reserved for children as it refers to the developmental complications associated with undernutrition and can prevent children from reaching their physical and cognitive potential. 

Finally, underweight is also known as low weight-for-age based on a specific calculated range. Underweight is a more general term and may or may not include children who are stunted and wasted.

The second group of conditions is micronutrient-related malnutrition which includes micronutrient deficiencies and micronutrient excess. Micronutrient is a term used to refer to vitamins and minerals. 

These micronutrients are obtained from foods; specific foods provide specific micronutrients. Inadequate intake of micronutrients is often the most significant concern globally, and imbalances result in the body being unable to efficiently produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances essential for health and development.

Of these micronutrients, iodine, vitamin A, and iron are the most critical public health concerns internationally.

The final group is overnutrition which includes overweight, obesity, and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The topic of overweight and obesity is a growing concern around the world and is constantly being addressed. 

Both result from an imbalance between energy consumed (high) and energy being used (low). Overweight individuals are defined as a body-mass index (BMI) of 25 or more, and obese individuals are defined as a BMI of 30 or more. 


(Photo: Jordan News)

Diet-related NCDs are also included in the definition of malnutrition and are typically the result of unhealthy diets and poor nutrition. NCDs may consist of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and even high blood pressure. Certain cancers have also been associated with malnutrition, and diabetes can fall under this classification. 

What are the ramifications of malnutrition?

Around the world, malnutrition has a significant impact on public health. According to WHO, in 2014 approximately, 462 million adults were underweight, and 1.9 million adults were either overweight or obese. 
In 2016 it was found that 155 million children under the age of 5 were suffering from stunting, and another 41 million were considered either overweight or obese. 

Additionally, around 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of 5 were linked to undernutrition. Thus, malnutrition can have a short or long-term impact on an individual’s health and development, especially in children.

The short-term effects of undernutrition may be seen physically, but there are many complications of undernutrition that are not physically visible. 

Physically, an undernourished individual may appear emaciated due to the loss of fat and muscle mass. They may also have hollow cheeks, sunken eyes, and dry hair and skin. More counterintuitively, undernutrition also presents with a distended or swollen stomach. 

The distension is not due to an accumulation of fat but instead is due to water retention and fluid buildup. Internally, the individual may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, anxiety, and delayed wound healing. 

The long-term effects are yet to be fully understood, but some risks include an increased risk of later becoming obese, developing heart disease, and diabetes. The reason for this is suspected to be the result of changes in metabolism within the individual.

The short-term and long-term effects of overnutrition have been extensively researched and are pretty well understood. 

The health impacts that obese and overweight individuals face are numerous. The most significant concern is the increased risk of developing diseases and chronic health conditions, especially those related to diet-related NCDs. 

Studies have shown that overnutrition may lead to some micronutrient deficiencies. For example, a study involving some 17,000 children and adults found that those who regularly ate fast food had a significantly lower intake of vitamin A and C but had higher calorie, fat, and sodium intake than those who did not regularly eat fast food. 

Another study corroborated these findings when measuring blood levels of vitamin A and E in obese individuals and found that their blood levels were 2-10 percent lower than those of average weight.

Malnutrition in Jordan

Malnutrition is a global issue, and Jordan is no exception. A study conducted by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in 2010 found that in terms of undernutrition, 3.5 percent of children in Jordan were wasted, 10.8 percent were stunted, and 2.5 percent were underweight. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 8.8 percent of children were at risk for being overweight, and an additional 1.8 percent were at risk for being obese. 
While the MoH investigation found that more children are undernourished than overnourished, a 2008 study voiced concerns over Jordan’s transition in nutrition from undernutrition to overnutrition. 

The study attributed these changes to increased urbanization, income changes, and food availability and consumption patterns. On the nutrition transition stages, they classified Jordan as currently being in the “degenerative stage,” which is indicated by changes in activity levels and diet leading to increased rates of NCDs. It was strongly urged that Jordan address this to prevent further burdens on the health care system.

Regardless of whether you are a seemingly normal or healthy individual, it is strongly recommended to discuss your diet with your healthcare provider regularly. 

Calories are not the only indicator of malnutrition, as micronutrient imbalances may affect any individual, and discussing your diet may help your doctor identify deficiencies before negative health implications occur.

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