A Crisis of Malnutrition and Starvation in Pakistan

It’s not just calories that count

By Seerat Fatima

Malnutrition may be defined as “poor or inadequate nutrition.” Malnutrition refers to a condition in which the body lacks essential nutrients and calories. It occurs as a result of insufficient intake of carbohydrates, protein, minerals, and vitamins.

People need to consume all essential nutrients in adequate quantities; adverse effects occur when these essential nutrients are consumed in either too small or excessively high quantities. All nutrients are necessary for the growth, maintenance, and proper functioning of the body. When the body’s requirements for both micronutrients and macronutrients are not met, it can lead to severe malnutrition.

Malnutrition does not simply refer to low body nutrients and lower body weight; it can also occur when nutrient levels and weight exceed the required levels. Overnourished individuals consume more macronutrients and micronutrients than required in their diets, leading to adverse effects on their health. Carbohydrates are essential for providing an energy boost, and sources such as fruits, vegetables, and sugary items are good sources of carbohydrates.

Illnesses can reduce appetite and lower immunity, especially in those undergoing treatment for other diseases. Hospitalized patients, particularly those undergoing surgery, often require longer hospital stays, which can increase the risk of malnutrition due to weakness or medication side effects. Surgical patients should be particularly careful

Excessive carbohydrate intake can lead to high blood sugar levels, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. Consuming excessive fats, especially saturated fats from animal sources, can cause high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and heart diseases

Protein is crucial for body growth and development, but excessive protein consumption can lead to health risks such as kidney and liver issues and dehydration. Just as excess macronutrients pose health risks, excessive or suboptimal consumption of micronutrients can lead to disorders.

For instance, high calcium consumption can cause kidney stones, excessive sodium can lead to high blood pressure, iron excess can cause liver and kidney problems, magnesium excess can result in diarrhea and stomach cramps, and potassium excess can cause improper heart rhythms and kidney problems. Vitamins must be consumed in appropriate quantities; otherwise, they can lead to disturbances, such as excessive vitamin D intake causing hypercalcemia, excessive vitamin C causing diarrhea, and excessive vitamin B causing nerve damage. This condition is more common in industrialized or developed countries where people have easy access to food but may over-consume it, often coupled with a lack of physical activity due to less education and awareness.

Undernourished people lack a proper diet for extended periods, resulting in a deficiency of the essential protein and calorie intake required for proper nourishment. As a result, they suffer from major health issues. Mostly, people in underdeveloped countries face health hazards due to financial crises, as they cannot afford a healthy diet.

Food is inaccessible for nearly 800 million people worldwide, with the majority being children and the elderly. About 30 percebt of children worldwide are underweight due to inadequate nourishment. A diet low in carbohydrates can lead to insufficient body weight and appetite. Conditions like Kwashiorkor and Marasmus are the result of a lack of body protein. Inadequate fat intake results in an energy deficit and can lead to a deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). All vitamins play essential roles in body functioning, and a deficiency in any vitamin can lead to health hazards. For example, a deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy, of vitamin D causes rickets, of vitamin B12 causes anaemia, and of vitamin A causes night blindness.

Minerals are essential for various biological processes, and their deficiency can have adverse effects. For instance, iron deficiency causes anaemia, calcium deficiency weakens bones, potassium deficiency causes muscle weakness, and iodine deficiency leads to goitre. Starvation refers to an extreme and prolonged lack of food, resulting in suffering and death. Poverty, economic crises, low income, government instability, war, forced migration, droughts, and natural disasters are all factors contributing to starvation.

Starvation is a major cause of malnutrition, and the inability to access food leads to unhealthy lives and loss of life. Most child deaths worldwide are due to malnutrition. According to the Global Hunger Index 2022, Yemen is the most affected country by hunger and malnutrition, with conflict, economic crises, political instability, poverty, and corruption being major reasons behind food insecurity. Unemployment increases with higher illiteracy rates and lack of education.

Agricultural production is a significant source of income for people in Yemen, and various social, economic, and political disturbances contribute to this dire situation.

The Central African Republic is the second most affected country by malnutrition in Africa, with a rapidly increasing ratio of stunted children. Less education, unemployment, overpopulation, climate change, war, political conflicts, and economic crises are all issues affecting food resources in Africa.

In Pakistan, children under the age of five experience extremely poor growth. Pregnant and lactating mothers also suffer from malnourishment, increasing the risk of its spread. Micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron, vitamin D, and A deficiencies, are widespread among children in Pakistan, with iron deficiency leading to alarming rates of anaemia. Medical consultation and aid are required to combat malnutrition.

Punjab is the largest province in Pakistan, with a population of over 100 million people, but approximately 49 percent of them suffer from malnutrition. Nearly 10 million of these people are children under the age of four, and they represent the most malnourished group in Pakistan.

Maternal health plays a crucial role in this context, as many women in Punjab suffer from anaemia due to insufficient iron intake. While breastfeeding is essential for providing various nutrients and boosting a child’s immunity, many children suffer due to their mothers’ poor health. Raising awareness and providing proper education are necessary to empower women to take better care of their health.

Sindh has a population of nearly 54 million people, with a surprisingly high malnutrition rate of 36 percent. The poorest districts in Sindh, including Badin, Umerkot, Tando Muhammad Khan, and Tharparkar, are the most affected by malnutrition. Almost 37 percen of Sindh’s rural population lives below the poverty line, and it’s worth noting that nearly half of Sindh’s population resides in rural areas. The poverty in Sindh is a major cause of malnutrition and requires urgent attention.

There are various reasons for the body’s inability to access essential nutrients, leading to malnutrition. Loss of appetite due to medications and improper diet consumption is one primary cause. Chewing and swallowing problems can hinder proper food intake.

Our sense of smell and taste enables the body to produce digestive secretions, aiding digestion. Weakened smell or less active taste buds can contribute to improper food intake or indigestion. Digestive disorders or disturbances can cause slow or improper digestion. Improper functioning of digestive organs due to aging and certain medications can result in poor food absorption in the digestive tract.

Malnutrition is associated with several other diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, chronic pain, gastrointestinal diseases, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.

Individuals over the age of 65 are more vulnerable to malnutrition. With aging, immunity decreases, leading to muscle and bone weakness, fractures, disabilities, protein deficiency, and other health issues that contribute to malnutrition.

Illnesses can reduce appetite and lower immunity, especially in those undergoing treatment for other diseases. Hospitalized patients, particularly those undergoing surgery, often require longer hospital stays, which can increase the risk of malnutrition due to weakness or medication side effects. Surgical patients should be particularly careful.

The writer may be reached at [email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Read

Tourists land car in stream while following Google Maps

A tourist’s car sank after they drove it into a stream while navigating the area through Google Maps. The four-member tourist group hailing from India’s...