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Originally written by Kate Schneider, RDN

What is malnutrition? And, what does it really look like? Kate Schneider, RDN joins Feed the Children to discuss current myths surrounding malnutrition and the reality about how the condition really affects the body.

 

What is malnutrition?

According to Johns Hopkins, malnutrition is the condition that develops when the body is deprived of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.

There is a common misconception that chronic hunger and malnutrition are the same condition. However, there are significant differences despite the fact the two can go hand-in-hand. Hunger deals with the obvious lack of resources for food, and malnutrition means the food a person is eating is not giving enough nutrients for proper development.

 

If you are underweight, do you suffer from malnutrition?

“A common consensus when thinking about malnutrition or someone who is malnourished, is that the person must be severely underweight to qualify,” said Kate Schneider, RDN. “This is simply not the case, rather, people suffering from malnutrition can have deficiencies, excesses or imbalances when it comes to their nutrient intake, ultimately leading to malnutrition. The truth is that malnutrition can’t simply be identified in those who appear underfed or too skinny.”

Instead, people suffering from malnutrition can be:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Undernourished

 

How does malnutrition affect children?

In 2020, the World Health Organization reported that globally, 149.2 million children under the age of 5 years of age were stunted, 45.4 million wasted, and 38.9 million overweight.

“Usually, we see wasting and stunted growth in kids, along with low body weight,” described Schneider. “Many children are notorious for being picky eaters, and they often have a tough time achieving enough of a balance of nutrients to avoid malnutrition.”

Most common signs seen in children who are malnourished are:

  • Not growing longer or taller
  • Poor concentration or low attention span
  • Not as active or playful
  • Depression
  • Always complaining that they’re cold
  • Tired and moody
  • Poor appetite or little interest in eating
  • Slow healing of cuts and bruises

Schneider says, “In my experience, some of the best ways to prevent these symptoms in children is to avoid sugary drinks, limit fats and oils, and salty and or sugary foods, make foods/nutrition fun by creating fun shapes and designs, introduce new foods as often as possible, encourage playtime, and give lots of positive reinforcement each time new foods are tried.”

It’s all about the quality of the diet within families, not the quantity. Even the pickiest eaters usually get enough calories and nutrients if there is a focus on the quality. The most critical time to prevent malnutrition in kids is within the first two years of life (1,000 days). This is when most of the brain development and growth happens and if it can be prevented during this time, they are at a much lower risk of future malnutrition related issues.

If you have a picky eater on hand, your child will likely not overhaul their eating habits for food desires overnight, and that’s ok. Small steps can lead to big success over time!

 

About Kate Schneider, RDN (Mrs. World)

Kate Schneider, RDN (Mrs. World, 2021) lives in New York with her husband James and their fur babies; two sweet little Yorkie’s named Martini and Maui. Kate won the prestigious title of Mrs. World this Spring, after competing alongside 50 incredible women from all over the globe. She will continue her partnerships with numerous childhood health organizations and serve both nationally and internationally throughout the rest of her reign and beyond.

Kate has never been one to limit her ambitions or interests, and is affectionately known to her family & friends as the “goal getter.” Most of her early adulthood was dedicated towards becoming a Radiologic Technologist (RT), Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), and finally achieving her Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). No matter which career hat she’s wearing on a particular day, her primary focus is always to improve the lives of her patients, clients, and everyone around her. Her passion for nutrition has been the fuel behind her platform of childhood wellness, firmly believing that building a foundation of healthy habits in children will lead to a brighter future.


About Feed the Children

At Feed the Children, we feed hungry kids. We envision a world where no child goes to bed hungry. In the U.S. and internationally, we are dedicated to helping families and communities achieve stable lives and to reducing the need for help tomorrow, while providing food and resources to help them today. We distribute product donations from corporate donors to local community partners, we provide support for teachers and students, and we mobilize resources quickly to aid recovery efforts when natural disasters strike. Internationally, we manage child-focused community development programs in 8 countries. We welcome partnerships because we know our work would not be possible without collaborative relationships.

Visit feedthechildren.org for more information.