Home LifestyleHealth What you need to know to understand the issues of the double burden of malnutrition

What you need to know to understand the issues of the double burden of malnutrition

Did you know one can suffer from malnutrition multiple times during the course of their life?

by Lisa
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Heyyy Guys

Thanks for checking in again for today’s blog post! In the past, I already shared a lot about what I loved and liked here – travels, fitness and recipes. The recipe for 3-ingredient Chocolate Banana Pancakes is one of the most-read recipe blog posts here. You Guys definitely seem to love healthy recipes, don’t you? In this spirit, I want to share more about something I read about lately and have been madly researching this topic ever since – Malnutrition.

Did you know there are several types of Malnutrition? It’s not, only, if someone solely eats junk food. Limiting the food intake to Big Macs, Coke and Fries, for every day of the week, does not only sound unhealthy as hell. It definitely is. Most people will agree that a limited meal plan like this only boosts malnutrition. But it’s not because this regular meal of junk food does not contain more than one leaf of salad, it’s, also, due to its unbalancedness. And heavily influenced by your upbringing.

» We as humans need a full palette of food. « For our modern lifestyle, this is sometimes quite hard to accomplish. Processed Foods everywhere, to find real whole foods you often have to go on literal hunts and read every packaging to find hidden holes and supplements. But malnutrition is way broader than just eating junk food. It also has a lot to do with our upbringing. Too many unanswered clues for you?
Keep on reading to learn more about the different types of malnutrition, and the role our gut and microbiota play.

Different types of Malnutrition

Despite widespread understanding, there are more types of malnutrition, as the average person might identify at a first glance. Malnutrition is usually only referred to as not eating enough, if someone is underweight and (in children especially,) tiny. But the term malnutrition also describes if someone is eating more than necessary, and/or eating the wrong things, only the same type of food over and over and/or overall not diverse enough. All of this results in one or several types of malnutrition. One after another or at the same time.

The Factors contributing to the double burden of malnutrition

As you now know, it heavily depends on what you eat. And how much of it. Too little is not good, too much is not good, and anything of the wrong things (if not balanced out) is also not good. But how does malnutrition become visible? Especially for children, basically starting from the second of conception, wholesome nutrition is essential.
Improper nutrition can cause four issues, either immediately or later in life: wasting, stunting, underweight as well as deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Undernutrition in general, and in important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, can make children more vulnerable to diseases, and even death. The double burden of malnutrition is characterized by the coexistence of undernutrition along with overweight, obesity within individuals, households or the general population. For example if someone is eating too much junk food, which might result in being overweight and micronutrient deficient.

Where malnutrition is a daily challenge

Malnutrition is not only a challenge for children, it is also a life-long challenge. However malnutrition does not solely occur by eating unbalanced at some point in life. The gut microbiota also plays a role in how our digestion and transfer of nutritions, and immune system, works and responds. As you might have already heard briefly somewhere, it’s better for babies to be born naturally instead of via c-section. This is, among other things, due to the better transfer of the mothers (good) microbiota to the freshly born child, which does not happen with babies born via c-section. Due to this it can happen that one person in a family is “naturally slim” and another one, with not as proper gut microbiota, can suffer from deficiencies and has a higher chance of becoming corpulent.

Another interesting development is that malnutrition might occur twice during a lifetime. If a child does not receive proper nutrition, for example, is only fed sugary cornflakes with fat milk and other highly processed foods, or only little food as the parents can’t afford anything at all, it will eventually develop deficits in weight, and might even become wasted or stunted in development. However, later in life this same child will long for all the kinds of foods it has missed, or can now afford itself due to economic changes. This might result in the same human becoming obese later in life, after being underweight or with deficiencies earlier in life. Crazy, right?

What the public can (and should) do about preventing malnutrition

As always, you can not only rely on people’s own responsibility. Sometimes there need to be official guidelines or even laws, so people will follow them.

For example, some countries have already implemented the so-called ”sugar tax”. It’s an Excise tax type and is levied on a particular product at point of manufacture. In this case, on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), so called lemonades. About 50 countries worldwide have implemented this tax already, which results in higher prices for the end-customer. Making the unhealthy drinks less appealing, and therefore the healthier ones (water) in relation cheaper. To give you some details, Norway already added 3.34 NOK per L (0,33 Euro) on drinks containing added sugar or sweeteners, in 1981. Might this have influenced Norway’s place as sixth-happiest country in the world? Probably, as if people are healthy, they are also happier.

In my opinion, the general laws should definitely be adapted and improved. Companies shall not be further allowed to artificially produce ”foods” that do more harm than good. Customers will happily sacrify less long shelf lives, but receive foods with fewer additives and unhealthy E-numbers instead. They definitely happily will once they know about how harmful, and potentially cancer promoting, certain additives and production methods are. Sometimes you just have to force “good”, if the general public does not know or realize something. Additionally, the transfer of knowledge for expectant mothers and infants should be improved. Giving detailed advice and recommendations on how a healthy life is shaped by the first months and years of a human, and how this can be achieved.


This article has been written as part of my graded assignment submission for my edX certificate courseNutrition and Health: Human Microbiome” as part of the course NUTR104x by WageningenX University.

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