Have you ever held newborn babies?
They are so tiny, and yet they carry so much potential for the future. As you cradle them in your arms, the whole world is full of possibilities.
But when a mother gives birth in the midst of a hunger crisis, there is fear instead of wonder as she holds her child for the first time. Before her child was even born, her own malnutrition had harmful effects on his health.
Hunger steals a child’s future before it’s even begun.
UNICEF’s director of emergency programs, Manuel Fontaine, calls malnutrition a “silent threat” to children. “The damage it does can be irreversible,” he says, “robbing children of their mental and physical potential. In its worst form, severe malnutrition can be deadly.”
Here are four ways malnutrition impacts a child — and what you can do to stop it.
1. Stunted growth
In countries such as Uganda, many children appear small for their age because of a phenomenon called stunting — one of the most noticeable effects of malnutrition.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly one in every four children under the age of 5 is stunted due to a lack of proper nutrition.
It doesn’t mean that a child is simply petite — stunting affects a child’s bone growth and even his organ development, which can lead to deadly complications later in life.
2. Kwashiorkor and marasmus
Most children suffer from one of two kinds of malnutrition — marasmus or kwashiorkor.
When you see a child with a protruding belly and brittle, copper-colored hair, that child likely suffers from kwashiorkor, a life-threating protein deficiency. This disorder causes fluid to build up under the skin, causing parts of the body to appear swollen while other areas waste away.
A child who suffers from marasmus, on the other hand, appears completely emaciated, and you can see his bones through his skin. Marasmus is typically due to a child not consuming enough calories.
Both disorders are common in areas experiencing a hunger crisis. They can result in persistent dizziness, chronic pain, diarrhea, a lack of energy, and even a loss of vision. If not treated immediately, the child will die.
3. Compromised immune system
For a child, seasons of prolonged hunger can be physically painful. However, it is the unseen effects on the child’s immune system that can cause the most problems.
Vitamin deficiency can lead to a compromised immune system; children who lack proper nutrition may suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. This can prevent a child from getting an education, doing his daily chores, or simply playing with friends.
Malnutrition multiplies the impact of even minor illnesses. A simple cold can turn deadly, and undernourished children are more likely to contract malaria, pneumonia, and measles.
4. Delayed mental development
A child’s brain begins to develop five weeks after conception — think about that! By the age of 2, the brain has already reached at least 80 percent of its adult mass and capacity. This means that the first several years of a child’s life are crucial to his cognitive development.
When a child is starving, low levels of iron can compromise this process, leaving a malnourished child struggling with attention deficit disorder, memory retention, and spatial perception.
Many will not complete school and will grow to struggle financially — continuing the cycle of poverty and malnutrition for their own families.
How you can help
These facts are devastating … and the number of children suffering from starvation and malnutrition can be daunting. But the situation is not hopeless!
For just $40, you can provide food for a child for an entire year. That’s a year of full bellies and healthy growth and development — mentally and physically. That’s a year where a child won’t have to fear the pains of hunger.
Give today and help rescue one child from hunger.