Malnutrition is a condition when a child's weight is too low compared to his height. Children with malnutrition or severe wasting usually have very weak immune systems so they are at risk of developing severe illness and even death.

Based on WHO data, there are as many as 13.6 million children who experience malnutrition. Meanwhile, based on Basic Health Research (Riskesdas) data for 2018, there are 3.5%, or around 805,000 children in Indonesia who suffer from malnutrition. This condition generally occurs in children under 5 years of age (toddlers).

Malnutrition is different from stunting . Malnutrition is characterized by a child's body being too thin compared to his height. While stunting is characterized by a child's height that is shorter than the standard age.

Until now, Indonesia still has a high problem of malnutrition, especially in children who live in remote areas.

Causes of Malnutrition

The main cause of malnutrition is a lack of nutritious food intake according to the needs of each child's age group. This intake deficiency can occur due to the unavailability of good quality food ingredients.

In addition, malnutrition is also often caused by impaired absorption of nutrients due to chronic diseases, such as chronic diarrhea or tuberculosis .

Malnutrition risk factors

The risk of malnutrition in children can increase if pregnant women have the following conditions or factors:

  • Get pregnant in your teens
  • Malnutrition
  • Smoking habits, consuming alcoholic beverages , and using drugs
  • HIV infection, syphilis and hepatitis B
  • Low education level
  • Poverty

Whereas in children, several conditions that can increase the risk of malnutrition are:

  • Born prematurely or low birth weight
  • Have chronic or recurrent infections
  • Special needs, such as cerebral palsy
  • Born with congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lip , abnormalities in the digestive system, or congenital heart disease
  • Get a parenting style that does not support growth and development
  • Living in an environment with poor sanitation , no access to clean water, and pollution

Symptoms of Malnutrition

Symptoms that indicate a child is experiencing malnutrition are:

  • The child's body looks very thin
  • Wrinkled face
  • Dry skin
  • Stomach looks distended
  • Often limp and not actively playing
  • Developmental disorders
  • Hair falls out easily and looks dull
  • Swelling ( edema ) in the legs

When to see a doctor

Immediately go to the doctor if the child's weight does not go up, his height is below the red line (-3 SD) of the WHO growth curve, or his weight drops dramatically.

Children also need to be taken to the doctor immediately if they experience prolonged diarrhea, recurrent urinary tract infections , pale, shortness of breath, or chronic cough.

Examination and treatment by a doctor is necessary to prevent complications. Handling also aims to treat diseases that cause children to experience malnutrition. That way, the provision of nutrition will be effective.

Diagnosis of Malnutrition

The doctor will conduct questions and answers regarding the history of pregnancy and breastfeeding, food intake, and the environment in which the child lives. After that, the doctor will carry out a physical examination, such as measuring height, weighing, and measuring the head circumference and upper arm circumference of the child.

Furthermore, all the results of these measurements will be included in the WHO growth curve.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will also carry out supporting examinations including:

  • Blood test , to detect hemoglobin (Hb ) levels and electrolyte disturbances that often occur in children with malnutrition
  • Chest X- ray and Mantoux test , to detect tuberculosis which often causes malnutrition

Malnutrition Treatment

Children with malnutrition need to be hospitalized in the hospital so that doctors can stabilize the child's condition and vital signs. The following are actions that doctors can take:

  • Cover the child to maintain body temperature
  • Provide intravenous fluids to treat dehydration
  • Treat the infection with antibiotics
  • Provide supplements, in the form of vitamin A , iron, and folic acid
  • Administer vaccines

In addition to the efforts above, the doctor can also give special liquid food in the form of F75, F100 or ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), by mouth or feeding tube slowly and gradually. These foods contain milk, butter, oil, sugar, and nuts, which are added with vitamins and minerals.

Malnutrition Complications

Untreated malnutrition can cause complications in the form of:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Hypothermia
  • Anemia
  • Developmental disorders
  • Brain disorders
  • Severe infectious disease
  • Death

Prevention of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can be prevented by taking the following steps:

  • Providing complete and balanced nutritious food according to children's needs
  • Implementing good parenting
  • Give exclusive breastfeeding until the child is 6 months old, followed by providing complete and balanced complementary food
  • Measure your child's height and weight regularly
  • Bringing the child to seek treatment immediately if he is exposed to an infectious disease
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