Reducing malnutrition

Easing the global disease burden by focusing on malnutrition

Malnutrition refers both to undernutrition (wasting, stunting and underweight) and overnutrition (overweight and obesity). Malnutrition can result from many factors, including illness, injury, and insufficient or erratic food intake. Regardless of age, BMI or body type, malnutrition causes adverse effects on body function and clinical outcomes.

In combating malnutrition, healthcare costs increase, productivity is reduced, and economic growth is staggered, thus perpetuating the cycle of ill health and poverty (WHO). By eliminating malnutrition, it is estimated that 32 percent of the global disease burden would be removed (WHO).

During periods of high physical stress, such as with acute illness or hospitalization, the body undergoes an adaptive metabolic response to survive. The provision of timely and sufficient nutritional support is of utmost importance in patients with acute and chronic diseases to secure optimal body functions, improved outcomes and rapid recovery.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of malnutrition is estimated to be up to 50 percent among patients in hospitals worldwide, and disease-related malnutrition remains a major challenge. Protein-calorie malnutrition is by far the most lethal form of malnutrition and leads, among other effects, to the breakdown of skeletal muscle mass and loss of function. This loss of muscle mass and function, a condition termed sarcopenia, often overlaps with malnutrition, especially in older patients.

Additionally, on a global level, only 40 percent of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. If breastfeeding were scaled up to near universal levels, around 820,000 child lives could be saved every year (WHO).