16. October 2023 General

Child Malnutrition is One of the Leading Causes of Death Worldwide

For some years now, the number of people suffering from acute hunger has been on the rise again. The resulting prevalence of malnutrition and undernourishment has far-reaching effects on health, especially for children. In our project countries, such as the Central African Republic, Sudan or Bangladesh, we are confronted with the consequences of malnutrition on a daily basis.

Cap Anamur unterstützt in den Projektländern die Menschen bei der Bekämpfung von Mangelernährung

Guest commentary by Sophie Kellner

As early as 1948, the right to food was included in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 162 states have committed under international law to respect, protect and ensure the human right to food. Unfortunately, the reality is different in many parts of the world.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition is defined as a lack of energy or nutrients that prevents one from leading a physically active life, which in turn enables optimal health. It includes both over- and undernutrition and has a direct, negative impact on health and well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor nutrition is the greatest threat to the world’s health.

Frauen, Kinder und Säuglinge sind besonders von Mangel- und Unterernährung bedroht
Women, children and infants are particularly at risk of malnutrition and undernourishment

The unequal distribution of food around the world is staggering: according to the WHO, in 2014, about 462 million adults worldwide were underweight, while 1.9 billion were overweight or obese.

Women, infants, children and adolescents are particularly at risk of malnutrition. UNICEF says malnutrition is the leading cause of death among children under five and is responsible for 3.1 million child deaths per year. About 45% of child deaths are due to malnutrition.

Deaths from malnutrition occur primarily in low- and middle-income countries. The 2022 World Hunger Index shows that sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit region, with more than one-fifth of the population undernourished. The Central African Republic is one of the countries most affected by hunger and malnutrition. Sierra Leone is ranked 10th on the list and Afghanistan 13th (out of 136 countries).

Frauen, Säuglinge, Kinder und Jugendliche sind besonders von Unterernährung bedroht.
The effects of malnutrition and undernutrition

Malnourished children have weaker immune systems and are therefore more susceptible to infections and diseases, such as extreme diarrhea and pneumonia. In addition, malnutrition has a dramatic impact on education, as it can affect brain development and motor skills.

The health and nutritional status of newborns and infants is directly related to the mothers’ state of health. While malnutrition in pregnancy can lead to serious problems for the mother, such as anemia and life-threatening hemorrhage, the potential effects on the child include stillbirth, low birth weight and developmental delays. UNICEF estimates that more than 20 million newborns suffer from low birth weight each year, perpetuating the cycle of malnutrition for generations to come.

The economic and social impact of malnutrition is also severe, both for the individual and for communities and countries. Ethiopia, for example, loses 16% of its gross domestic product annually due to indirect long-term effects from nutrition problems.

Cap Anamur unterstützt die Bevölkerung in den Projektländern bei der Bekämpfung von Mangelernährung
We support the population in our project countries in combating malnutrition

Among other things, we provide education on practices to improve nutrition (e.g., promoting exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age and introducing complementary foods in a timely manner) or reduce micronutrient deficiencies (e.g., through vitamin A supplementation). Also indirect optimization of nutrition, e.g. by ensuring access to water, sanitation and health services, and improving access to education. Furthermore, we operate food banks in our projects for the patients admitted to the hospital in order to provide them with the daily calorie requirement or distribute food packages to the population.