Current issues in nutrition


In this section, you will learn about current issues in nutrition. Generally, problems concerning nutrition are called malnutrition. Malnutrition is a condition in which a patient cannot get the energy or nutrients he needs.

Current issues in nutrition

Problems related to nutrition are actually termed ‘Malnutrition’. Malnutrition is a condition that results from eating a diet in which one or more nutrients are either not sufficient or too much such that the diet causes health diseases. It generally concerns under-nutrition resulting from insufficient consumption, excessive loss, or poor absorption of nutrients. It may involve a deficiency of calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, or vitamins. The not adequate nutrients are termed under-nutrition or under-nourishment while too much is called over-nutrition. Most commonly, malnourished people either do not have enough calories in their food, or eat a diet that lacks proteins, vitamins, or trace minerals. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, impairs physical and mental health, retard growth, slows thinking ability, and affects fetal development. According to the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF), malnutrition contributes to the deaths of more than 6 million children (under the age of 5) each year. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, within the next few years, diseases due to malnutrition will become the major global causes of mortality.

Hungry African child eating biscuits in his village

                    Undernutrition is the most common type of malnutrition. It generally occurs due to a lack of enough high-quality food. This is often related to high food prices and poverty. Lack of breastfeeding may cause a number of infectious diseases such as gastroenteritis, malaria, measles, and pneumonia which increase nutrient requirements. During pregnancy, due to the body’s increased need deficiencies may become more common. In some developing countries, over-nutrition in the form of obesity is starting to present within the same communities as under-nutrition. Other causes of malnutrition are anorexia nervosa and bariatric surgery. General forms of malnutrition involve protein-energy malnutrition (PEM), mineral deficiency disease (MDD), and over-intake of nutrients (OIN).

  1. Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM)

Protein-Energy malnutrition includes inadequate availability or absorption of energy and protein in the body. It is the leading cause of death in children in developing countries. Generally, there are two types of diseases that may cause due by protein-Energy malnutrition e.g. marasmus and Kwashiorkor.

Marasmus: This disease usually occurs between six months to one year. In this condition, children lose all their body fat and muscle strength and acquire a skeletal shape.  Children with marasmus exhibit poor growth and look small for their age.

Kwashiorkor: This problem is due to protein deficiency at the age of about 12 months when breastfeeding is discontinued. It may also occur at any time during a child’s growing year. Children may grow to normal height but are physically thin, because of the deficiency of protein.

  • Mineral Deficiency Disease

Diseases resulting from the deficiency of a mineral are relatively rare among humans. Mineral deficiency is the shortage of dietary minerals, the micro-nutrients that are needed for an organism’s proper health, That causes due to poor diet, impaired uptake of minerals that are consumed, or dysfunction in the organism’s use of the mineral after it is absorbed. There are two diseases that result from Mineral Deficiency Disease i.e. (a) Goiter (b) Anemia

Goiter: It is a condition that is caused by an inadequate amount of iodine in the diet. Iodine is used by the thyroid gland to produce hormones that control the body’s normal functioning and growth. In this condition thyroid gland becomes enlarged and it results in swelling in the neck region if sufficient iodine is not present in a person’s food.

Anemia: It is the most common of all mineral deficiency diseases. The term anemia literally means “lack of blood”. It occurs when the number of red blood cells is reduced than normal. Hemoglobin molecule contains a single atom of iron at their center. If the body fails to acquire the normal amount of iron, an adequate number of hemoglobin molecules are not formed. In this condition, red blood cells do not play their function. The patient becomes weak and there is a shortage of oxygen supply to the body’s cells.

  • Over-intake of Nutrients (OIN)

It is a type of malnutrition in which more nutrients are taken than the amount required for normal growth, development, and metabolism. The effects of the over-intake of nutrients are usually intensified when there is a reduction in daily physical activities. Over-intake of nutrients causes a number of health problems. For example, a high intake of carbohydrates and fats may lead to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders. Similarly, a high dose of vitamin A results, in loss of appetite and liver diseases. Excess intake of vitamin D leads to the deposition of calcium in various tissues in the body. Iron poisoning is caused by the excess intake of iron and normally refers to an acute overload rather gradual one. The term iron poisoning also named iron toxicity or iron overdose, is primarily co-ordinated with young children who consumed large quantities of iron supplement pills that resemble sweets and are widely used, including by pregnant women. About 3 grams is lethal for two year old.


Treatment for malnutrition (undernutrition) actually depends on the underlying cause and how a malnourished person is. In order to prevent malnutrition, a dietitian will advise you about dietary changes that can be helpful for better health. He may also suggest;

  • Having a healthier as well as more balanced diet.
  • Eating fortified food that contains extra nutrients.
  • Snacking between meals.
  • Having drinks that contain extra calories.
  • Getting supermarket deliveries at home.

If these measures are not sufficient, taking extra nutrients in the form of supplements may be recommended. These should only be taken on the advice of a healthcare professional.


In children, malnutrition is often caused by long-term health conditions, for which hospital treatment is needed. But this is not the case for all children with malnutrition.

Treatment may include:

  • Dietary changes, such as eating foods high in energy and nutrients.
  • Support families to help them manage factors affecting the child’s nutritional intake.
  • Vitamins and mineral supplements.
  • Treatment for any underlying medical condition causing malnutrition.
  • High-energy and protein nutritional supplements, if the other treatments are not enough on their own.

It is important to note that the treatment is monitored regularly to ensure it is working properly. Weight and height measurements will be taken, and a child will be referred to specialist services if there is no improvement.

Leave a Comment