Malnutrition in children is one of the most important social and health problem that face the young children in the modern world. Whether it is in the developed world or the under developed world, nutrition among the children has evolved to be a very important issue. Today’s children are faced with numerous physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and health challenges due to malnutrition. While a child in a poor neighborhood in Africa is sleeping hungry, a child in a middle class neighborhood in the United States is over indulging in unhealthy junk foods.
Malnutrition is therefore an important social and health problem in all parts of the world. There is however a misconception that malnutrition in children only affects children in poor society where there is wide spread hanger, but this is no longer true. The over indulgence of unhealthy junk foods which are deficient in essential nutrients such as vitamin, poor living conditions, malabsorption and inadequate access to nutritional education and information on healthy eating are some of the many factors that force parents to make wrong choices in the quality of food they serve their children.
Consequently, the number of children suffering from nutritional deficiency and related health complication such as obesity, poor growth and development and diseases has increased significantly. It is the role of the government through the relevant agencies and department to implement nutritional education through a national education strategy to ensure that the general public is well informed on the good eating habits as well as the consequences of malnutrition especially in young children (Dalton, 2005). Causes of Malnutrition in children
Malnutrition is an important health problem in children due to its impacts on their growth and development. It is a condition that results from deficiency of essential nutrients such as vitamins, mineral salts and protein among others which are needed for the maintenance of health body functioning. Malnutrition can either occur as a result of under or over nourishment of a child with particular nutrients. Therefore majority of children suffer from malnutrition in the developed world today because of dietary imbalance rather than the deficiency of nutrient as it is common in the under developed world.
Malnutrition can be caused by several factors which include poor diet and lack of adequate education on health eating habits. a) Diet One of the major causes of nutritional imbalance among children is the diet. Either parents influence their children directly or indirectly into improper selection of food or the modern society has over indulged in junk foods. Due to numerous promotions and advertisements in the mass media, children find fast foods more desirable.
These may be snacked crisps, parked cakes and biscuit and other ready to eat meals. These fast foods have poor quality nutrients and ingredients which are manufactured to look special using large amount of fats and sugars, artificial preservative and additives which have negative effects on the individual’s health. There is no doubt that jack foods are processed food, ready to eat. These foods pass through the factories where the essential goodness of natural foods is removed and replaced with artificial additives and sweeteners.
It is interesting to note that despite these fast foods having a long list of additives and preservatives on their labels in the name of ingredients, parents continues feeding their children in these foods. Moreover, many of the ingredients in junk foods such as fats, sugars, salts and additives are unhealthy to the children. The short term and long-term of such ingredients are well known. Junk foods are also deficient in essential dietary components such as fiber, minerals and vitamins which are very essential in growth and development in children.
The dietary imbalance in children as a result of junk food is very event in the American society today (French, et al, 2001). It is important to note that one of the major causes of malnutrition in children is the choices of foods. Either knowingly or unknowingly, parents buy their children junk foods which are deficient in essential nutrients but have high level of unhealthy ingredients. There are several reasons that make individuals to make bad choices of foods. It is also important to note that the parent may not feed his children on junk food but end up preparing food that is unhealthy to the child due to bad choices.
In many cases, especially in the underdeveloped world, parents may be forced by circumstances to make wrong choices for the foods they give their children. Poverty and food insecurity in some poor countries leaves parents with very limited choices of food resulting into malnutrition in children. Food prices in the developed world may also force poor parents to make wrong choices of foods. However, the most important factor that determines the food choice parent give to their children is the level of education and the nutritional information held by the parent (Hills, et al, 2007).
b) Education Research indicates that many children are malnourished not because of unavailability of food and essential dietary components but because of the information held by parents and guardians. People who have the responsibility of providing their children with food have very little or no information on the quality of food they are expected to give their children. For example, the food and agricultural organization has argued that about 80 percent of malnourished individuals especially children live in areas around the world that have sufficient food supplies.
Although poverty and food prices are also important factors, the level of information on implications of unhealthy eating habits is an important factor. In the American society, children are not malnourished because of inadequate food supplies but because of the choices of food. Children in America and other developed countries are increasingly becoming obese due uptake of unhealthy foods. There are no proper mechanisms of educating parents on health eating habits in children which as resulted into the society relying in misinformation from promotions and advertisements in the mass media.
For example, inadequate breast feeding in infants is one of the major causes of nutritional imbalance in young children. Although there are many factors that contribute to poor breastfeeding such as changing lifestyles and job demands, lack of education on its importance on the health of the child id the most important factor (Hills, et al, 2007). Effects of Malnutrition in Children a) Obesity Over the years, obesity in children in the American society has reached epidemic levels. The percentage of children suffering from obesity in the American society has risen from below five percent in 1960s to over twenty percent today.
Obesity has evolved from a condition that was in the past common among the rich families to a problem in the entire society. The number of children from poor families and middle class families suffering from obesity has increased significantly. Due to the increased prevalence of obesity among the young population, it has been rated as one of the most important health concern (Peter, 2005). The principle cause of obesity in children is unhealthy eating habits. Other factors may include genetic makeup, medical and psychological factors as well as lifestyles.
The parents eating habits has been considered to be the biggest influence that play a significant role in the development of obesity in young people. Consequently, over weight parents have over weight children not because of genetic makeup but due to poor eating habits. Doctors have confirmed that the parents are not feeding their children with the right food which resulting into nutritional imbalance. The increased dependence on junk food as well as sedentary lifestyles adopted in the western world where children have not time for physical exercise has created a nation where a third of the children are over weight.
This may be a time bomb since this creates a generation that will be faced with numerous health complications such as diabetes, high blood cholesterol and heart diseases (Dietz, 1998). b) Diseases Inadequate supply of essential dietary nutrients to the body in children is exhibited in various forms of diseases and disorders. It is important to note that the world health organization maintains that malnutrition and related complications is the most important health problem facing children in the world being the largest cause of child mortality globally, either directly or indirectly.
Majority of malnutrition diseases are caused by lack or inadequate supply of essential nutrients. These diseases include marasmus, kwashiorkor, anemia and hyponatremia to mention but a few. Marasmus is caused by calories deficient, kwashiorkor by acute protein deficient, anemia by lack of iron and hyponatremia by lack of sodium. These deficient diseases are more common in the developing world due to widespread poverty and food insecurity. There are other numerous diseases that are caused by lack of essential vitamins and minerals.
Other disorders that have been associated with poor eating habits includes eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, stress disorders and depression, risk of drug abuse, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and poor development of reproductive systems (Allen & Myers, 2006). Prevention of the malnutrition in children There is no doubt that malnutrition is both a national and international problem. Due to the large number of children with nutritional imbalance condition, the resultant health complication in the future may be overwhelming to the national health systems.
It is therefore important for the relevant authority to implement the most appropriate educational programs that will educate the public especially parents on feeding children with health diets. Strategies that encourage adequate breastfeeding of infants and the dangers of unhealthy junk foods are recommended. Educating the parent to change their lifestyles and take responsibility of their children’s eating habit is also essential. Educating parents of obese children for example will assist them identify the root cause of the problem and design an intervention plan.
It is also important for the parents to be aware of the nutritional need of their children which can be provided through civic education strategies (Hills, et al, 2007). The influence of the mass media in the modern world is not in doubt. Manufacturers of junk foods have bombarded the young people with advertisement which has had a significant influence on their eating habits. The same mass media can be used as a channel of educating the public on the importance of eating healthy foods.
Media campaigns and advertisement that discourage unhealthy eating habits and educates people on dangers of malnutrition as well as nutritional requirement can possibly reverse the situation. However, these media promotions and advertisement should be carried out carefully to avoid magnifying the already developing social stigma against overweight members of the society. Promotion of physical education in school and encouraging children to involve themselves in physical exercises such as playing sport, walking a dog or riding a bicycle should be a top priority.
There should be no excuse for physical education in schools while the parents should discourage passive activities at home such watching TV or playing computer games (French, et al, 2001). Conclusion Over indulgence in unhealthy junk foods rather that inadequate food supply is the most important form of malnutrition among American children today. These foods are deficient in essential dietary component and have high amounts of fats, sugars, salts, artificial additives and preservatives that have negative effects on children’s health.
There is a need for the government through the relevant departments to implement policies and strategies that will save the children from malnutrition. This includes educating the parents on appropriate food for the children and promoting physical exercises among children. Strategies to combat numerous commercial advertisements of junk foods which make them look more attractive compared to healthy home made food should be developed and implemented. These policies should go hand in hand with ensuring increased access to quality and affordable foodstuffs.
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Pediatrics 101 (3 Pt 2): pp 518–25. French S. A, Story, M, Neumark-Sztainer, D, Fulkerson J. A, Hannan P. (2001). “Fast food restaurant use among adolescents: associations with nutrient intake, food choices and behavioral and psychosocial variables”. Int. J. Obes. Relat. Metab. Disord. 25 (12): 1823–33 Hills, A. P. , King, N. A. & Byrne, N. M. (2007). Children, obesity and exercise: prevention, treatment and management of childhood and adolescent obesity, New York, NY: Routledge Peter, G. K. (2005). Clinical obesity in adults and children: In Adults and Children. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell