News Trawl 17 – Malnutrition and Mental Health

malnutrition and metal health Photo by Dan Gold via Unsplash
Photo by Dan Gold via Unsplash

Malnutrition and mental health problems go hand in hand. While advocating healthy diets for mothers and children, it’s impossible to ignore the obstacles between the idea and its fruition.

A wealthy nation such as America should be well beyond the reach of chronic malnutrition. However, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) make sobering reading. As a recent article on the Natural Products Insider website put it:

“The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) indicate most children tend to have suboptimal intakes of dietary fiber, calcium, potassium and vitamin D. About 3 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds indicate they never eat meat, poultry and fish/seafood; and about one-third of these children also report not eating dairy and eggs, which can contribute to nutrient inadequacies.”

All of which puts children at risk of mental and physical health problems, including the scourge of the 21st century, obesity. Ironically, this is often a symptom of malnutrition in the US, with children eating large amounts of sugary junk foods.

India: Highest Number of Children with Stunted Growth

The social, geographical and logistical obstacles are more challenging in India, where malnutrition wears its familiar guise – poverty. As reported on that continent’s website:

Malnutrition affects 1 in 5 children
Photo credit: Alan Janssen MSPH via CDC

“India, home to the largest population of children in the world, sadly also has to cope with the highest number of stunted children globally. According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS 4), 38.4% of the nation’s children were stunted in 2016 – a 10 percentage point decline over the last decade. Stunting is a condition associated with chronic malnutrition among children during the first 1000 days of life (from the beginning of pregnancy up to age 2) and leads to hampered growth (low height-for-age).”

The story is actually highlighting a downward trend in the number of stunted children from region to region, but is still a tale of malnutrition – of mothers and children alike – of epic proportions.

Poor Diet Linked to Deaths

“Although humans are living longer than ever before, one in five deaths last year were linked to poor diet”, reported MedicalXpress last week. “Two million mothers and newborns perished due to complications at birth that rudimentary health care could have largely avoided […]

“The studies, drawing from the input of 2,500 experts, also showed that one in seven people – 1.1 billion – are ‘living with mental health and substance use disorders’. Major depression ranked among the top ten causes of ill health in all but four of the 195 countries and territories covered.

“Mental health services are chronically underfunded in most nations, especially in the developing world […] Less than one percent of national healthcare budgets in China and India is allocated to mental health.

“‘We are facing a triad of trouble holding back many nations and communities – obesity, conflict and mental illness, including substance abuse disorders’, said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, which centralised and analysed the millions of data points used in the studies.”

There is no single panacea. A combination of aid, education and access to good nutrition is the complex conundrum faced in so many parts of the world. One key ingredient in any answer is the encouragement and promotion of breastfeeding.

Photo via Messmanos via VisualHunt
Photo via Messmanos via VisualHunt

Breast Always Best

In a new study published in Breastfeeding Medicine, researchers have created an online calculator – hosted online by the United States Breastfeeding Committee – to estimate the impact of changes in breastfeeding rates on US population health. The underlying message is that not enough women are encouraged to breastfeed.

The study concludes that “Policies to increase optimal breastfeeding could result in substantial public health gains.”

It’s absolutely fine to emphasise the financial side of this – the money that could be saved on childhood health problems if more mothers breast-fed. If the sums help to get the message across, that’s okay with us!

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