Lesson 5 Nutritional Issues 

Nutrition is fundamental for the development and growth of children and for keeping them healthy.

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products
  • Protein-rich foods
  • Oils
  • “Globally in 2020, 149 million children under 5 were estimated to suffer from stunting, 45 million were estimated to suffer from wasting, and 38.9 million were overweight or obese.”
  • “Approximately 45% of deaths between children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition. These mostly occur in low- and middle-income countries. At the same time, in these same countries, rates of childhood overweight and obesity are rising.”

Source: https://www.pexels.com  


Malnutrition includes deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. There are three main forms of malnutrition:

  • Undernutrition, that includes wasting (low weight for height), stunting (low height for age) and underweight (low weight for age)
  • Micronutrient-related malnutrition, which includes micronutrient deficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals) or micronutrient excess 
  • Overweight, obesity and diet-related NCDs (like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer).

Stunting occurs due to chronic undernutrition in early childhood. Children that suffer from stunting may never reach their full height nor their full cognitive development.

Wasting is a life-threatening condition which is caused due to poor nutrient intake and/or disease. A quick decline in nutritional level is spotted over a short period of time that characterises this syndrome. In addition, children wasting weakens the immune system of children, therefore they are more prone to infections.  

Overweight is usually the result of unhealthy lifestyle, of which the consumption of processed foods and the lack of physical activity are the most important risk factors.

As we mentioned in previous lessons, certain populations are more vulnerable towards having nutritional issues due to their living conditions.

Growth abnormalities are common among refugee/migrant children both undernutrition (wasting and stunting) and overweight and obesity.

  • Anemia
  • Thalassemia
  • Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
  • Micronutrient deficiencies such as iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12 vitamin A, zinc, iodine, vitamin B3 (niacin), tryptophan, vitamin B1 (thiamine)

Anemia (which can be considered as measure of micronutrient status) is prevalent among migrant children. 

Vitamin D deficiency is common in this population due to limited vitamin D intake alongside with lack of exposure to sunlight. Malnutrition can impede children’s growth and can also lead to conditions like diarrhea and respiratory illnesses which are associated with higher mortality rates in children. 

On the other hand, especially, during the first years of immigration, the excessive stress, the change of dietary habits, the adoption of western lifestyle and the cultural beliefs and values poses migrant children in higher risk for obesity.

Malnutrition has also been associated with low SES, as food insecurity is inversely correlated with family income. 

In addition, low SES has been associated with lower consumption of healthy foods. More specifically, a lower consumption of fruits and vegetables and higher consumption of energy dense foods have been spotted. This is attributed to the fact that energy dense food tend to cost less than healthy foods, therefore parents that struggle economically are pushed to choose the unhealthy option.