Malnutrition in children refers to inadequate or excess consumption of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals that are required for the normal functioning of an individual. A common misconception about malnourishment is that it only refers to under-nutrition. However, overnutrition is a sign of malnourishment as well.
There can be numerous causes of malnourishment in children. These include:
Most malnutrition symptoms in children are quite evident. Some of the signs you may get to see in malnourished children are:
Marasmus refers to the loss of fat and muscle. This condition causes the child’s skin to become discolored and turn dark. The child will also suffer from rapid hair loss and, due to the lack of fat under the skin, the skin will appear loose and thin. Marasmus also leads to limited physical movement and other characteristic symptoms of weakness.
Kwashiorkor is a result of protein deficiency and occurs in severely malnourished children. In this condition, there is extreme fluid accumulation in the body that leads to the appearance of a round and plump body. The characteristic symptom of kwashiorkor is an extremely swollen tummy. This condition is accompanied by decreased energy levels and presence of dark patches on the skin.
Malnourished (underfed) babies will often display stunted growth or a slower rate of growth as compared to healthy children of their age group. Since adequate nourishment that is crucial to physical development is not being provided, the child will also have lower stamina.
Other malnutrition symptoms include increased irritability, lack of interest in activities, poorly coordinated movements, rapid weight loss or weight gain, and prolonged periods of sleep. These are usually the first malnutrition symptoms. Malnourished children and babies tend to cry too much and may also experience indigestion. Deficiency of a certain nutrient will also show slightly different symptoms such as bleeding gums, tooth decay, and skin issues. Edema is a severe condition and is also indicative of malnutrition. This condition needs immediate medical attention.
Being overweight & Obesity
An often neglected type of malnourishment, being overweight can rapidly progress to being obese in children. This often lays the foundation for adult obesity and increases the risk for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. If your child looks too chubby, then he is probably overweight or obese and not ‘healthy’. Charting weight against height and age on standard growth charts can quickly tell you where your child stands as per the global average and if you need to control what he eats. Sugary foods, processed and packaged foods, and artificially sweetened beverages, are often the culprits that you must curtail and completely eliminate from the child’s diet if necessary.
Malnutrition in children and babies can be treated if it is diagnosed at the right time. Malnutrition symptoms are quite easily detectable, and the doctor will confirm the condition with a physical exam and diagnostic tests if necessary. The treatment of malnutrition in children depends upon the cause. After proper assessment, your doctor will usually provide you with a detailed diet plan to help the baby recover.
Also read: Vitamin D Requirements In Children
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