Malnutrition has been dubbed the world's "silent emergency", a condition leading to death and disability on a vast scale, particularly among children and women of child-bearing age. Malnutrition destroys lives by compromising health, learning, productivity, curiosity, incentive and hope. Malnutrition engenders social and economic costs that cripple the development of individuals, communities and nations.
Large segments of the world's people, mostly poor and concentrated in developing nations are malnourished in calories, protein and/or micronutrients. Among the populations most vulnerable to malnutrition, are infants, pre-school children and pregnant and lactating women, all of whose nutritional demands are elevated.
Malnutrition readily crosses generations. There is clear evidence that the major damage caused by malnutrition takes place in the womb and during the first two years of life; and that this damage is irreversible. Malnourished women are more likely to die in childbirth, or to suffer debilitating complications of pregnancy and childbirth. The infants of malnourished women begin their own lives malnourished, and face increased risk of early death, childhood disease and life-long impairments. Research has established clear links between malnutrition in early life and the subsequent development of chronic conditions later in life.
Malnutrition can take a variety of forms that often appear in combination. It is not only a silent emergency it can be a largely invisible one as well. Many of the world's undernourished children betray no outward signs of problems to a casual observer. Yet these "mildly to moderately" malnourished youngsters often fall victim to complications attendant on inadequate diets -- compromised immune systems, chronic disease, or the dehydration associated with persistent diarrheas often aggravated by malnutrition. An even mildly underweight child faces increased risk of death and disease, as does a child of normal weight who suffers the "hidden hunger" of micronutrient deficiency.
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