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In large areas of the tropics, malnutrition, especially that affecting young children, is one of the principal causes of morbidity and mortality. The problem of feeding the populations of the world, and therefore maintaining an adequate status of nutritional health, is a serious one. Its magnitude and severity have only recently received attention, and there is no completely reliable assessment of it in quantitative terms. Hunger, as manifest through famines or chronic undernutrition, has been recognised from prehistoric times. However, the problems related to the absence of specific nutrients have begun to be understood only relatively recently.
Human malnutrition is an ecological problem and the following intimately related factors may be involved in its pathogenesis: (1) food production and distribution; (2) food storage and processing; (3) demo- graphical problems related to food, eg the rate of increase of the population in most developing countries is over 2% and yet the rate of increase of food production, in most areas, has not kept up with the population increase; (4) education and socio-cultural factors; (5) food preparation and consumption; (6) the role of infection.
The United Nations Agencies have reckoned that about one third of the world's population goes to bed hungry every day, mostly in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The most 'vulnerable' groups are infants, pre-school children, pregnant and nursing mothers. Protein-calorie malnutrition is the name accepted now for a disease syndrome which includes Kwashiorkor, believed to be largely due to protein-deficiency, and nutritional marasmus which is due to a general deficiency of all nutrients, especially calories. In tropical communities one sees cases ranging from one extreme to the other.
Among adults, acute periods of undernutrition may occur in large populations because of failure of food crops, or catastrophes of one kind or another, eg floods, earthquakes, wars and failure of the rains.
The background of nutritional deficiency conditions is very wide and can be seen to be more dependent on the socio-economic level of the
society than practically any other disease. Protein-calorie malnutrition is the most important nutrition problem of the whole world, though deficiencies of Vitamins A, B and D are also quite common. The nutritional deficiencies in many cases are complicated further by additional stress imposed by multiple parasitic infections such as intestinal helminthiases and malaria.
Many tropical diets are based on some staple carbohydrate foodstuff to which other substances are added fortuitously. These diets consist mainly of yams, cassava, rice, plantains, breadfruit and maize. Maize is a poor staple food at any time but when, in addition, the crop fails because of insect pests, famine may result. Such diets are badly balanced and lack total protein and other essential substances. They result in quantitative and/or qualitative deficiencies which are injurious to health.
» Kwashiorkor and marasmus
» Nutritional marasmus
» Avitamenoses Vitamin A
» Avitamenoses Vitamin D
» Avitamenoses the Vitamin B
» Avitamenoses the Vitamin C
» Avitaminosis the Nicotinic acid (PP), pellagra