Malnutrition: Anthropometric Definitions

Stunted: Stunted growth refers to low height-for-age, when a child is short for his/her age but not necessarily thin. Also known as chronic malnutrition, this carries long-term developmental risks.

Under-weight: Under-weight refers to low weight-for-age, when a child can be either thin or short for his/her age. This reflects a combination of chronic and acute malnutrition.

Stunted and Under-weight children are most likely to suffer from impaired development and are more vulnerable to disease and illness.

Mothers should monitor their babies' growth from birth by taking them monthly to the local clinic where they will be weighed and have their growth plotted on a chart. This should ensure that correct information and advice are provided to mothers support the appropriate growth of their babies.

Wasted: Wasted refers to low weight-for-height where a child is thin for his/her height but not necessarily short. Also known as acute malnutrition, this carries an immediate increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Wasted children have a 5-20 times higher risk of dying from common diseases like diarrhoea or pneumonia than normally nourished children.

Based on anthropometric criteria, acute malnutrition can be divided into severe or moderate. Children with acute malnutrition need immediate medical attention. A child suffering from severe malnutrition is at risk of dying if not treated immediately.

Marasmus: When children do not get enough energy-giving food their bodies become thin and they feel weak. Children with marasmus look old and wrinkled. Their skin is dry and their faces are thin, with sunken cheeks and large eyes. Their abdomen looks swollen. They present sagging skin on legs and buttocks. Children with marasmus cry a lot, are very irritable and have increased greedy appetite. They are liable to all kind of disease.

Kwashiorkor: When children do not get enough variety of the right kind of food, for example when they eat only cereal-based porridge, their bodies (especially their stomachs and legs) swell so they may look fat. Micronutrient deficiency, particularly anti-oxidant nutrients, might be a probable cause. Sores develop on their skin and at the corner of their mouths. Their skin becomes pale and starts to peel off. Kwashiorkor children are most likely to lose their appetite and an interest in their surroundings.

Kwashiorkor children present with what is called pitting oedema in both feet and lower limbs. Oedema can also expand to the whole body.

Marasmus and kwashiorkor symptoms can be combined. A child suffering from these conditions is at risk of dying.


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