When I think about malnutrition, my mind often goes the disturbing (and often misrepresented) pictures of starving children in some developing country. It is estimated that 795 million people in the world are undernourished1, but could it be that malnutrition is much more than not having enough to eat.
The definition of malnutrition
Malnutrition can be defined as a state of poor nutrition; it can result from insufficient, excessive, or unbalanced diet or from an inability to absorb foods. An easy break down of the term is understood when we separate the word: mal meaning “bad” and nutrition meaning how our body uses the food it takes in. This definition helps us to understand that that malnutrition is not limited to those that do not have enough food, but also to those who have too much or the wrong kind.
Nutrients essential for good health
In order to dig a little deeper into the issue of malnutrition, we must also nail down which nutrients are essential for life.
The essential nutrients:
As humans, we need appropriate amounts of each of these in order to survive. Carbs, proteins, and fat are macronutrients, while vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. The vast majority of our food is composed of macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) and water.
As a society that’s known for having more than less, we tend to focus on those who don’t have enough to eat, which is a tremendous problem that desperately needs solving; however, there is another problem that isn’t addressed quite as aggressively. That problem is the problem of over-nutrition.
We don’t often think of malnutrition in terms of an excessive diet, but we are finding that precisely that – a diet in excess – is becoming a pervasive issue. Over-nutrition is defined as “the overconsumption of nutrients and food to the point at which health is adversely affected2.” Over-nutrition can develop into obesity, which increases the risk of serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease (heart disease), hypertension, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
The evidence that America is “over-nourished” is abundant. According to the most recent research, more than 66% of adult Americans are either overweight or obese3.
We are in trouble
Hunger is a major problem in our world. 795 million are people in the world don’t have enough to eat. Approximate 22 million die each year of hunger and the numbers are rising. This is an issue that gets the attention and sympathy it deserves. But the opposite problem is of even greater magnitude. Approximately 2 billion people in the world are overweight or obese5. And of those, 25 million die each year because of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes alone.
The issue of overconsumption is taking the world by storm and awareness of this issue that leads to serious intervention is necessary to stop this emerging epidemic of excessive malnutrition.