Hunger and malnutrition… A silent specter of death and ruin
Every 16th of October is globally celebrated as World Food Day. Its commemoration aims to highlight the often overlooked and subtle realities of malnourishment across the globe. Also, the day allows us an opportunity to re-evaluate the health status of our individual, communal, societal as well as global lifestyles. Accordingly, the resultant awareness is enough to jolt any conscientious person out of the confinement of his/her individual-centered approach towards world happenings and re-prioritize their dietary habits as well as other food-related activities. Even for those who are too lost in their own lives, the uncovered truths act as silent alarm bells ringing for action against what has now almost become a normative acceptance of hunger and destitution.
To begin with, let us first endeavor to understand some key terms regarding hunger and food deprivation.
Hunger defines a short-term physical discomfort as a result of chronic food shortage, or in severe cases, a life-threatening lack of food. (National Research Council, 2006).
World hunger refers to hunger aggregated to the global level. Related terms include food insecurity and malnutrition. Food insecurity refers to limited or unreliable access to foods that are safe and nutritionally adequate (National Research Council, 2006). Malnutrition is a condition resulting from an insufficient intake of biologically necessary nutrients (National Research Council, 2006). Although malnutrition includes both overnutrition and undernutrition, the focus for global hunger is undernutrition.
There are two basic types of malnutrition/undernutrition. The first and most important is protein-energy malnutrition (PEM), or a lack of calories and protein. Food is converted into energy by humans, and the energy contained in food is measured by calories. Protein is necessary for key body functions, including the development and maintenance of muscles. Protein-energy malnutrition is the more lethal form of malnutrition/hunger and is the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed. This leads to growth failure. Principal types of growth failure are:
• Based on physical measurements, like weight, malnutrition can be broken down into moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and severe acute malnutrition (SAM), with SAM being worse (Black et al., 2016).
• T’s here are two types of acute malnutrition. Wasting (also called marasmus) is having a very low weight for a person’s height. Nutritional edema (also called kwashiorkor) is swollen feet, face, or limbs (UNICEF, 2015) Stunting is being too short for a person’s age. It is a slow, cumulative process and develops over a long period as a result of inadequate nutrition or repeated infections, or both. Stunted children may have normal body proportions but look younger than their actual age.
Source: UNICEF/WHO/The World Bank, Levels and Trends in Child Malnutrition, 2018, p. 3
The second type of malnutrition is micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency. This is not the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed, though it is certainly very important.” (worldhunger.org)
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), out of the 7.5 billion people of the entire world about 815 million are undernourished. In our own beloved country, Pakistan every year hundreds upon thousands of lives of mothers and children are consumed by preventable causes out of which many are of malnourished children. Sadly according to many researches, there are multiple factors that sustain this situation of hunger and destitution in our country. All of which in effect point towards the same nonchalant disregard of the effluent to words other strata of society. “The health of the population is adversely affected by the inequities in the country. Women and children being most vulnerable are worst affected. The prevalence of Protein Energy Malnutrition (f.E.M.) in children under five years of age is 51 percent. Such a magnitude of malnutrition in a country, where availability of food per capita is more than adequate, points towards the fact that the inequities within the country are at the root of the problem. Poor income is not the only predictor of malnutrition, gender, urban-rural differences in access, utilization, and quality of health care also influence health. In addition, there are some underlying factors such as illiteracy, unawareness of the mother about healthy behaviors, lack of decision-making power of women, along with deep-rooted cultural values of a patriarchal system.” (jpma.org)
Nevertheless, many amongst us have taken inspirational stances against this multi-dimensional disease which is slowly but surely poisoning our society. One of such efforts is a campaign Umeed say AAGAY launched by the Human Development Foundation which aims to eradicate malnutrition and focuses upon the social, behavioral, and legislative aspects of the health of mother and child together. Also, along with such organizational stances that indeed propel such changes into existence, we as individuals have our own shares to contribute. Each and every one of us has the power to spread awareness about the causes, consequences, and solutions for hunger and malnutrition. All of us together constitute the force required to ensure the adequate health care and food security of all factions of our society.
So let’s set an example by changing our own dietary habits and by contributing by all means possible to such causes!