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Inadequate Nutrition & Health

Indian kid eating from bamboo dish

(Photo courtesy of Heather McDonald)

Everyone needs to eat a nutritious, balanced diet to be healthy.  The average number of Calories needed per person is 2100 (World Food Program). However, there are hundreds of millions of people who do not get enough food to eat and even more who do not get the proper quantities of each nutrient for a balanced diet.  Thirty-five percent of all childhood deaths are attributed to undernutrition, which is the largest single contributor to childhood mortality worldwide (Horton, et al. 2010).  Without enough nutritious food, a person’s health is severely jeopardized. Malnutrition affects all aspects of life. Getting fewer Calories than the body needs is caloric starvation and leads to being underweight, loss of productivity, and mental retardation—especially in children.  Malnourished pregnant and nursing mothers are unable to adequately provide for their children.  Insufficient quantities of other important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals cause severe defects such as blindness, mental retardation, and increased sickness. 

One effect of malnourishment is increased infection. Poor nutrition weakens the immune system which increases the chance that people will catch and die from common diseases. Children are especially vulnerable.There are many infections rampant in the developing world due to poor sanitation and a lack of health education; one common parasite is worms. Worms affect  thirty percent of primary school-aged children worldwide (Planting Peace, 2005).These organisms live inside humans and can consume up to twenty percent of the daily food of children (Planting Peace, 2005).  Most of these infections are not normally fatal, but because the parasite is consuming a large portion of their food, severe undernourishment can result and lead to death.  Fortunately, this problem is easily addressed by a Deworming campaign in the schools.

School Lunch

The effects of undernourishment are most detrimental to children. The effects  are irreversible in children under two years old. This makes it especially important to properly nourish children within the first 1000 days (IFPRI, 2010). For these early months of a child’s life, children should be breast-fed by their mothers because that provides all the nutrients that the infant needs (IFPRI, 2010). Breastfeeding is better than formulas for many reasons.  Primarily, it gives the child everything needed; typically babies up to six months need 627 Calories per day which is easily acquired through breast milk.  This is also the best method because it is the most efficient.  Mothers need only 500 more Calories per day (Atals of World Hunger, 2010).  Therefore, it is very important to promote Breastfeeding and to focus on nursing mothers so that they are able to properly feed their children. Malnutrition in children of all ages can cause stunting, mental retardation, and a myriad of other health problems. A School Lunch Program to feed older children is a proven way to give food to children as well as increase school attendance (Miller del Rosso, 1999). Lack of education plays a significant role in malnutrition because people are less able to find well-paying jobs and health information about how and what they should eat, so increased school attendance helps fight hunger on a long-term basis.

(Source: Leo, Retreived 2010,

Hunger is often most severe during the non-agricultural seasons, since many undernourished people are farmers or otherwise dependent on agricultural labor. They make less money and there is less food available, meaning food prices increase while their incomes decrease – a double effect on their food security. Long-term development does decrease the hunger rates, but in the short run direct aid is needed to ensure that the poor have a way of providing for themselves. This aid is given by a Food & Cash for Work program that provides food or extra income during the hungry season.

Goitre Image

Even if people get enough Calories, they can still be malnourished. Malnourished refers to not receiving enough of any of the essential parts of the diet: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. Insufficient quantities of any of these can be just as harmful as caloric malnourishment. In particular, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are rampant in the world. The most significant deficiencies are Vitamin A, iodine, and iron. Deficiency of the essential nutrient Vitamin A is a severe problem in the developing world, especially among children. It affects about 250 million people worldwide, half of them children under the age of five (Bassett & Winter-Nelson, 2010). The deficiency causes potentially severe health problems, including weakened immune systems and blindness. A combination of supplements and fortifying sugar will reduce these effects, see the Micronutrients plan.  Iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation in the world. It is estimated that 1.9 billion people suffer from iodine deficiency today, and 740 million have visible goiters, the tell-tale sign of the deficiency (Leathers & Foster, 2009; Bassett & Winter-Nelson, 2010).  Goiter is the swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck caused by the lack of iodine, as shown in the picture to the left. In developed counties, there have been major successes with fortifying table salt with iodine. However, the deficiency is still a problem in developing countries that have low amounts of iodine in the soil. Iodized salt needs to be implemented in more countries; the plan for this is also given in the Micronutrients plan.

(source 2010,

A person’s heath is a major factor in the quality of life and malnourishment has many far-reaching effects on the body and can cause irreversible damage in children. This is corrected in two main ways: increasing the amount of food people consume and ensuring the correct quantities of each nutrient are included.  But this does not make it easy to solve, the specific problems are unique to each region. Solutions must be targeted to these individual problems and address the needs of the individual people. 

Works cited: 

Hunger. (2010) World Food Programme. Retrieved November 20, 2010 from

Hall, A., Horton, S. & De Silva, N. (n.d.) The costs and cost-effectiveness of mass treatment for intestinal nematode worm infections using different treatment thresholds. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from

Planting Peace. (2005). Stomp the Worm Project. Retrieved Nov 11, 2010 from

Rich, K. M., & Narrod, C. A. (2010). The role of public–private partnerships in promoting smallholder access to livestock markets in developing countries. IFPRI.

Bassett, T. & Winter-Nelson, A. (2010). Atlas of world hunger. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Miller Del Rosso, J. (June 1999). School Feeding Programs: Improving Effectiveness and Increasing the Benefit to Education. Partnership for Child Development. Retrieved November 13, 2010 from

Leathers, H., & Foster, P. (2009). The world food problem: toward ending undernutrition in the third world. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc.