Stop Undernutrition in Children

Stop Undernutrition in Children

One of the never-ending health problems around the world is undernutrition. Even worse, most of the cases for are undernutrition in children under five years. If people don’t take action, children with undernutrition can experience growth failure or even death. Let’s take a quick look on undernutrition in children, the causes, and how to overcome it.


Nutrition can be affected not only by the quantity of the food that we eat, but also the quality. Is undernutrition different from malnutrition? The answer is yes.

Malnutrition can be defined as deficiencies, imbalances, or excess in an individual’s food intake. There are two types of malnutrition: undernutrition and overnutrition.

Undernutrition is caused by not having enough calorie intake (not eating enough food) or having poor choices in their diet, eating foods that do not contain enough nutrients for their body. The cause of malnutrition is not always by virtue of one’s decision. It can also be caused by one’s inability to properly absorb the nutrients from the food that they eat. The effect is often look obvious, they can look underweight, bones often protrude, their skin is dry and inelastic, and their hair is dry and falls out easily.

Meanwhile, overnutrition is caused by the excessive amount of nutrients, usually in form of energy or calories. People with overnutrition appears to be overweight, or even obese, which both can lead into many diseases (i.e. diabetes, cardiovascular disease).


Developing countries still have high number for undernutrition in children under five years old. World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the countries in Asia contributed the most number for children with undernutrition, with the percentage of 68%.

Global Hunger Index (GHI) calculates and tracks hunger issue in global, regional, and national using four indicators. Firstly, not enough calorie intake; secondly, acute malnutrition (underweight children); thirdly, stunting or children with low-height for age; and lastly, the mortality rate for under-five children.

According to Global Hunger Index, in 2020, Indonesia has a level of moderate level of hunger with the GHI score of 19.1. Indonesia ranks 70th out of 107 countries with sufficient GHI data.

Indonesia's GHI score

Get to know more about hunger issue around the world

There are some factors that contribute to undernutrition in children. One study stated, there are direct factors, such as infection and insufficient nutrition. There are also indirect factors, including accessibility and quality of health services provided, the effect of parenting, the condition of environmental sanitation, and household food security.

However, there is a certain cause for undernutrition in under-five children. It is usually the inadequate intake of food and the condition of their environment which contains infectious diseases.

We all know that under-five children need nutritious food to support their physical growth and the development for their brain. Yet the factors mentioned forbid them to get their right to get a proper nourishment.

undernutrition in children

Children who suffer from undernutrition tend to look smaller for their age, suffer physical and cognitive growth retardation, and perform less well at school. They also have the higher risk to diseases that hinder their growth and development, especially in their golden age. Some diseases that caused by malnutrition are as mentioned below:

  • Beriberi: caused by vitamin B1 deficiency. It can cause decreasing in muscle function, mental confusion, pain, and paralysis. It is most common found in Asian countries.
  • Rickets: caused by vitamin D deficiency. It can cause the inability of the body to absorb or deposit calcium. It affects to the bone development, and most severe in children which can result the bones that flare outward in “cupping” appearance.
  • Pellagra: caused by vitamin B3 deficiency. It is marked by dementia, diarrhea, and dermatitis. This disease is most common in the poorest region of the world.
  • Scurvy: caused by vitamin c deficiency, usually as the effect of unvaried diet. This disease is quite rare. The symptoms are spongy gums, joint pain, and loosening of the teeth.


animation for kid's healthy eating plate to prevent undernutrition in children

Based on the issues that are stated, we –as global citizen– have the obligation to help in every way possible. To overcome undernutrition in children, all parties must be involved. The government should make the best solutions possible while supporting parties like NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) holding various social event and volunteering events.

There are two main solutions to overcome undernutrition in children. The first one is nutritional planning. The second one is direct nutrition and health interventions.

Nutritional planning is crucial because it needs the commitment from the government. Nutritional planning involves formulation of nutrition policy and overall long-term planning in order to improve the production of food, food supplies, ensure the distribution so all region can have good nutrition.

Nutritional planning can also involve a lot of local people, especially to help people in farming. If the farmers can get enough support and guidance, not only does it help the farmers by increasing their income, but also the quality of the foods that are yielded from their lands.

This program also will be needing the consistency of the government in ensuring the quality of the food being distributed to all regions, for the better quality of the livelihood of the nation.

infant's immunization
source: UNICEF

Direct nutrition and health interventions include lots of public services.

  • Improving health care system is essential in our society because diseases like malaria, measles, diarrhea, and acute malnutrition are often found in children and infants. The government needs to make sure that every child gets their immunization, oral rehydration, periodic deworming, also early diagnosis and proper treatment for common illnesses.
  • Civilians, especially parents, need to be educated regarding the nutrition for infants and children, what foods contain good nutritional values, the importance of immunization, and so on.
  • Health intervention must occur during pregnancy and the first three years of life. A well-recorded growth chart can detect malnutrition very early. Physician must be alerted if there is any nutritional deficiency in children’s grow chart.
  • Nutrition supplementation for mothers and infants is extremely important. Calories, proteins, and micronutrients like iron, vitamin A, calcium, and zinc can be supplemented. Making sure having the right and enough nutrients while pregnant can minimalized the chance of having an underweight baby and increasing the baby’s health.

It is now clear that undernutrition in children can lead into long-term impact by being unable to learn well at school, thus decrease their chance to have a decent income and a good livelihood. Moreover, if there is no action step to overcome undernutrition in children, it will result in long-term effects on families, communities, even countries.

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