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Malnutrition’s Prevalence and Associated Factors

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Arslan Ahmad, Sakhawat Riaz, Nosheen Ijaz, Maleeha Fatima and Muntaha Latif

Submitted: December 27th, 2021Reviewed: March 10th, 2022Published: April 20th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.104455

MalnutritionEdited by Farhan Saeed

From the Edited Volume

Malnutrition [Working Title]

Dr. Farhan Saeed, Dr. Aftab Ahmed and Mr. Muhammad Afzaal

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Malnutrition, which affects roughly 2 billion people worldwide, is among the country’s most pressing health issues. In comparison to other developing nations, Pakistan has one of the worst prevalence of childhood malnutrition. We’ll explore how people in poor countries manage food scarcity. Owing to low per capita income and a lack of purchasing power for fundamental food staples that meet the human body’s nutritional demands. Malnourished children in Pakistan suffer from stunting, wasting, and being underweight. The causes of child malnutrition and stunting in Pakistan are discussed in this chapter, as well as the impact of numerous factors on stunting and the types of intervention methods and practices that should be devised and executed to address the problem.


  • malnutrition
  • stunting
  • food insecurity
  • interventions
  • strategies

1. Introduction

Malnutrition is commonly referred to as under-nutrition [1]. Stunting, wasting, and being underweight in children under the age of five are all signs of malnutrition [2]. Malnutrition refers to any shortage, surplus, or volatility in energy and/or nutritional demands, and includes both under and over-nutrition [3, 4]. 165 million children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition across the world. India (46.6 million), Nigeria (13.9 million), and Pakistan (10.7 million) have the world’s least stunted children, according to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report [5]. Malnutrition is responsible for at least half of all child deaths globally [6, 7]. Children’s malnutrition is mostly a problem in developing and disadvantaged countries [8]. The leading cause of sickness and death among children is malnutrition [9]. Malnutrition is among the world’s most serious health problems, affecting around 2 billion people. Malnutrition in all forms (appetite, undernourishment, vitamin deficiencies, overweight, and obesity) appears to be a severe concern for both emerging and industrialized countries, according to the World Committee on Food Security. Hunger may be characterized in many different ways, including individual experiences and behavioral reactions in the home, food shortages, and national food balance sheets [10]. Approximately 151 million children under the age of five are stunted, over 50 million are wasted, and nearly 17 million are seriously wasted, according to UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group estimates [11, 12]. Although the total rate of stunting in Asia has decreased from 38 percent to 23 percent between 2000 and 2017, it is still the highest [13].

Pakistan is now experiencing a complicated malnutrition problem that affects people of all ages, especially newborns, children, adolescents, and pregnant and nursing mothers. As per UN Worldometer statistics, Pakistan’s population is now predicted to be about 219.1 million, with a potential increase to >260 million by 2030 [14]. Malnutrition is predicted to cost emerging nations between 2 and 3% of their GDP (GDP). Malnutrition is estimated to cost a person one-tenth of their lifetime wages [15]. Pakistan has a high rate of malnutrition. As a result, nearly a quarter of the population of a low-middle-income, fifth nation is unable to meet an adult’s dietary needs (2350 calories per day) [16, 17, 18]. According to a recent global report on child malnutrition, The majority of households in low and middle-income countries are facing dual-faced malnutrition as a result of a dietary shift, which is defined as a home with an obese mother and an undernourished child. On the other hand, stunting is declining relatively slow, whereas excess weight continues to rise globally [19]. As a result, while establishing policies, programs, and interventions to prevent undernutrition, food insecurity and dietary variety should be considered [20].


2. Childhood stunting’s causes

Stunting develops in children as a result of a regular caloric intake and nutrients that are insufficient to meet their needs. A lack of linear development, or a modest stature or height in one’s age, is referred to as stunting. This is evaluated by dividing a child’s height for his or her age to either a comparison group of well-fed and healthy children (Z score of 2 or less). Stunting refers to excess or inequality in a person’s energy or calorie consumption that is linked to stunted physical and psychological development [21]. Stunting is associated with the phrase “small for gestational age” (SGA) globally [22]. If pregnant women’s nutritional demands are not addressed sufficiently, they might not be able to provide the fetus with the nourishment it needs during pregnancy. Malnourishment in pregnancy is a big issue in Pakistan since it can inhibit a baby’s development and raise the risk of certain diseases later in life [23]. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, almost 10 million Pakistani children are stunted (UNICEF). For the first 6 months of their lives, just 38% of newborns are exclusively breastfed. As a result, more than half of children under the age of five are deficient in vitamin A, 40% are zinc and vitamin D deficient, and 62% are anemic. In Pakistan, 4 out of every 10 children under the age of five are stunted, with 40.2 percent wasting and 17.7% stunting. According to the 2018 national nutritional survey, more than one-third of children (28.9%) are underweight, with a high prevalence of overweight (9.5%) in the same age range shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

National nutrition survey malnutrition report.

The nutritional challenges of their children are linked to the moms’ diet and wellness during adolescence, gestation, and breastfeeding periods. As a result, expectant moms must receive appropriate and balanced nourishment. Maternal micronutrient supplementation (MMS) during pregnancy improved gestation, birth weight, and fetal development in Tanzanian infants, as evidenced by their 6-week mortality rate, which was only quantifiable in females but not males newborns [24]. Due to compromised immune systems, malnutrition and infection combined to raise the risk of childhood morbidity and death. More than half of all children under the age of five are expected to die from malnutrition. Immunological changes have been associated with decreased intestinal activities, the inadequate release of protective material from exocrine glands, and decreased participation of the signaling pathway in serum proteins, albeit the underlying processes are unknown [25]. Children’s intrinsic and innate immune responses are also influenced by protein and micronutrient deficits [26]. In children, changes in the gut microbiota can limit growth, disrupt inflammatory immunological processes, reduce functional brain connections, and also delay psychomotor and intellectual abilities [27, 28].

Other geriatric syndromes have been associated with depressive symptoms and malnutrition, both of which are modifiable risk factors for 30-day readmission in hospitalized older people [29]. The prevalence of malnutrition, as measured by the CONUT score, was high in older people undergoing elective surgery for colon cancer patients. Malnutrition has been related to a prolonged stay in the hospital as well as a higher chance of negative outcomes. Both death and readmissions to the intensive care unit are on the rise. CONUT is a quick and easy nutritional screening test that has previously been used to assess nutritional status in people who have had CRC surgery. A longer hospital stay is linked to a lower nutritional state. It’s more likely that difficulties may occur. as well as a higher mortality risk [30]. Sarcopenia, cachexia, diminished sensory function, and alterations in the gastrointestinal system are some of the factors linked to old age [31].


3. Malnutrition in Pakistan: consequences

In South Asian nations, the primary factors of malnutrition and stunting are remarkably similar. The key categories include food insecurity and insufficient nutritional intake, social status and inequality, maternity and environmental factors, poverty, and water sanitation hygiene.

3.1 Inadequate dietary intake and food insecurity

Poverty and food insecurity are the two most persistent and major variables that cause stunting. Food insecurity affects children’s nutrition, growth, and cognition and is a serious problem in developing nations. Food insecurity and diet variation should be considered while establishing strategies, plans, and interventions to address the problem of undernutrition [20]. The potential for economic growth of a country can impact food insecurity and, subsequently, the frequency of child stunting [32]. In Pakistani children, food insecurity is a major contributor to their low nutritional condition. In Pakistan, about two-thirds of families with nearly 80% of children lack adequate access to good and nutritional foods [33]. Insufficient diet, anemia, and nutrient deficits in pregnant mothers have been linked with lower childbirth weights in Pakistan. Even though Pakistan is a significant producer of rice and wheat becoming a food supply state, the nation’s economic insecurity has exacerbated the nutritional inequality among children and babies. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2018–2019, Pakistan’s overall food output and accessibility to basic food items are sufficient to meet the population’s nutritional needs [34].

According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association 3, in 2025, the supply of calories from key food groups per person would climb to 2530 calories. As per the Pakistan Cost of Diet Analysis, 67% of Pakistani families cannot afford a scientifically appropriate meal, while around 5% cannot afford a diet that fulfills even the necessities of energy needs [35]. Despite rising per capita wealth, increased food production and accessibility, and better intakes of gross energy (calories from food), Pakistan’s current child stunting incidence is 40.2%. Nevertheless, over 60% of the people themselves are affected by food insecurity, with the lowest and perhaps most susceptible individuals in particular unable to buy sufficient healthy food [36]. Despite this, little is known about the non-nutritional repercussions of food insecurity, such as its implications on brain development and cognitive impairments, especially in developing countries [37]. The likelihood of baby undernourishment has also been connected to poor maternal mental health. Women with prenatal indicators of distress who lived in rural parts of Pakistan, and they had smaller amounts, larger family debts, and were food insecure, exhibited severe depression than women in high-income nations [38]. Young children are going through a phase of rapid growth and development, which necessitates more energy consumption. Humans and caretakers, on the other hand, meet their nutritional and dietary requirements. As a result, they are more likely to become malnourished [39]. Long-term exposure to natural disasters like landslides causes a decrease in the food supply, a lack of access to safe and nutritious food, a decrease in the quantity and quality of food consumed, and a lack of access to health, safe water, and sanitation facilities, all of which contribute to child malnutrition [40]. Long-term exposure to natural disasters, such as landslides, causes a decrease in the food supply, a lack of access to safe and nutritious food, a decrease in the quantity and quality of food consumed, and a lack of access to health, safe water, and sanitation facilities, all of which contribute to child malnutrition [41].

3.2 Socioeconomic status and disparities

There is a strong relationship between several indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) and child stunting in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Children’s stunting is said to be impacted by socioeconomic inequity. Children in rural regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were found to have a greater frequency of stunting than those in city environments. Boy stunting was much higher than girl stunting, especially among boys from low-income families. Breastfeeding, along with other nutrition treatments, must be given prompt attention to prevent stunting, they said [42]. Parents’ educational levels, particularly mothers’, mothers’ health and nutritional status during pregnancy and lactation, children’s vaccinations, family income level, and the current system were all socioeconomic factors affecting the nutritional health of children under the age of five in Nigeria [43, 44].

Stunting and thinness in Pakistani primary school kids (5–12 years) in Lahore, Pakistan, were studied for frequency and socioeconomic determinants. Researchers discovered that 8% of children were stunted and 10% were underweight, with no gender differences. Both boys and girls showed signs of stunting as they grew older, but only males were skinny. Stunting and thinness were found to be influenced by age, socioeconomic status, parental education, the number of siblings, overcrowding, and living in a smoky environment. Children from poorer, less qualified families who lived in low-income neighborhoods and in cramped residences with a smoking culture were considerably more likely to be stunted and skinny. Programs aiming at the disadvantaged and socially marginalized should be prioritized [45]. Stunting, underweight, and waste were identified in 44.4%, 29.4%, and 10.7% of Pakistani children (0–59 months), respectively. Mothers of children were under the age of 18 at the time of marriage, resided in rural regions, and attended a maternity clinic at least 3 times during pregnancy had a low risk of being stunted. Underweight in children was strongly linked to the mother’s level of education, height, BMI, and birth weight. Investigators concluded that the majority of the variables that cause malnutrition in Pakistani children may be avoided [46]. A higher amount of income or wealth, on the other hand, has been linked to a lower incidence of malnutrition in children. As a consequence, Pakistani women’s empowerment can help improve people’s health, which is key for the country’s future progress [47]. Parents with a lower degree of education have a lower household income and are more likely to live in poverty. They spend less money on appropriate nutrition because of a shortage of food, basic health care services, and exposure to terrible living conditions and diseases, and their children are more prone to growth failure [48].

3.3 Poverty

Many of us associate poverty with pictures of starvation or children dying from avoidable diseases on television from the poor world [49, 50]. Poverty is a multifaceted issue in Pakistan. It is firmly embedded in the social, economic, and political systems of the country. The lack of good economic and political governance is the greatest obstacle to poverty reduction. Poverty was once associated with the severe types of malnutrition, particularly in children, that were common during times of famine and starvation. As indicated in Figure 2, the World Bank utilized the lower-middle-income poverty rate ($3.2 per day) to predict that Pakistan’s poverty rate stood at 39.3% in 2020–2021, is expected to continue at 39.2% in 2021–2022, and may drop to 37.9% by 2022–2023. Impoverished individuals are more susceptible to natural dangers (lack of sanitation, inadequate food, crime, and natural disasters), are far less aware of the benefits of good health, and get less access to quality health care. As a result, individuals seem to be more prone to disease and disability [51]. When girls reach reproductive age, they are more likely to give birth to low-birth-weight babies, who have a worse chance of survival than typical babies. Undernutrition is one of the most frequent diseases, the major cause of inadequate healthy development, and by far the most important component inhibiting a country’s progress [52].

Figure 2.

Poverty rate from 2020 to 2023.

3.4 Maternal and environmental factors

Malnutrition and stunting in children are generally induced by several factors, namely maternal health, ecological and home circumstances, poverty, socioeconomic disparities, low birth weight, dirty water, sanitation, proper hygiene, infections, and diarrhea [53, 54]. Gastrointestinal tract damage, immune suppression, including liver illness across both mothers and infants, as well as stunting in children, are all linked to aflatoxin and mycotoxin exposure from contaminated food [55]. Children who grow up in agricultural areas tend to have development problems throughout pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence [56]. The use of polluted water and the early introduction of supplemental feeding raises the risk of infections and water-borne illnesses including diarrhea and cholera, which impairs children’s food intake and nutrient utilization, causing stunting and wasting [57].

3.5 WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene)

Poverty, poor sanitary conditions, and dirty water are the causative factors of child retardation in Pakistan, by a World Bank study. In Pakistan, open latrines are widely used, and the country is ranked third in the world for open defecation. Many nutritional and health issues are linked to open latrines, including intestinal infection and disease transmission. In Sindh, water and soil polluted with Escherichia coliare detected in greater quantities than in Punjab [58]. This is due to an insufficient sewage disposal system and inappropriate human waste treatment. The feces-infected water enters the irrigation system, causing tainted crops to grow that are unsafe to eat. Because of too much access to intestinal parasites, poor drainage, sanitation, and sanitary circumstances influence children’s growth and development. On-diarrheal sickness and death in children can be reduced by using nutritional, therapeutic, and behavioral strategies [59]. Figure 3 depicts the effect of household income on energy intake, which results in anthropometric measurements of stunting and wasting. If one’s calorie intake is less than one’s energy expenditure, it leads to physical inactivity and makes it difficult to work as an adult. All of these factors have an impact on health, resulting in illnesses. This clarifies the relationship between economy, nutrition, and health. In children, E. colicauses environmental enteric dysfunction (EED), which causes profuse diarrhea. In underdeveloped nations, EED suppresses the immune system, impairs children’s cognitive and mental development, causes growth retardation, and causes malnutrition [60, 61].

Figure 3.

Consequences of undernutrition.

Inadequate toilet facilities, inadequately treated water supplies, underprivileged healthcare access in remote regions, diarrhea and diseases, and food insecurity are among the most powerful factors of malnutrition and stunting in children in the developing world, according to the above-mentioned data.

3.6 Strategies to cover malnutrition

The eradication of child malnutrition is crucial for people’s and society’s development. To achieve zero stunting, thorough nutritional therapy regimens must be implemented, particularly during the first 2 years of life. Multi-targeted intervention strategies with a focus on growth and anthropometric parameters are advised. Reduced child stunting is a crucial aim in reaching zero hunger, according to the Global Nutrition Targets for 2025 [62]. Scaling Up (SUN) The need to include stunting prevention in all future sustainable development efforts undertaken by member nations is highlighted by nutrition. Poor nursing habits and dietary deficiencies are thought to be the primary health issues of child stunting and bad health. Pakistan should promote supplementary feeding services for kids above the age of 6 months in addition to exclusive breastfeeding. To boost the nutritional impact of supplementary feeding habits and enhance children’s nutritional status, recommendations on their entry timing and frequency must be created and executed. It is necessary to develop and deliver suitable, low-cost fortified supplemental nutritious meals that are compatible with unique cultural foods, especially to homes at risk of potential poverty. According to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, the leading causes of stunting in children are premature marriages and breastfeeding females more than boys. Boys are often given more food than girls, resulting in stunting and malnutrition in the female population. Not only are they unable to compete in many sectors with males, but malnourished moms are also unable to give birth to healthy kids [63].

Cooperative efforts to improve maternal nutrition and to eliminate child stunting, focusing on a variety of actions in areas such as agriculture, the environment, water, sanitation and hygiene, schooling, poverty alleviation, and social welfare, including the implementation of specific laws and policies. In Pakistan, malnutrition must be seen through an ideological lens, with implications for overall growth [64]. Cross strategies including all dietary and micronutrient techniques, to eliminate hunger and childhood stunting in Pakistan, strong political will must be formed and enforced. Deprivation, food shortages, bad sanitation, and hygienic practices, disease infection and vulnerability, maternity care, inequalities gender issues, poor diet patterns, and poor diets, as well as a high population growth rate, increasing urbanization, sensitivity to protection and wellbeing situations, or an absence of adequate ideological would all add to the quality of Pakistan’s dietary difficulties. According to the findings of a recent study, the majority of these variables are avoidable. On the other hand, integrated solutions for addressing these concerns should be developed in the framework of society’s academic and nutritional efforts [46]. Nutritional therapies can reduce stunting in general. Stunting is a significant danger for children living in urban slums. When creating dietary approaches to reduce low birth weight and child retardation in these kinds of circumstances, the diversity of such conditions in terms of physiological, social, and economic elements should be acknowledged [65]. It’s vital to create well-designed coordinated multistakeholder intervention strategies which use rational ways to fulfill the requirements of the most desperate individuals that are more prone to stunting as poverty [66]. As a result, appropriate recommendations initiatives should not only aim to reduce poverty, undernourishment, and climate difficulties but also improve and maintain a lengthy economic growth goal within the native culture. Because nutritional deficiencies, like iron and iodine, can harm children’s brain growth early in life, nutritional supplementation throughout pregnancy and childbirth is crucial for preventing cognitive deficits in infants and children [67]. Stunting and malnutrition can be reduced by food adjustments such as food supplements and micronutrient replacement, in combination with diet therapies [68, 69]. Niazi concluded that governmental and non-governmental institutions’ nutritious prevention efforts in Pakistan failed to deliver their aimed nutrition outcomes because they did not take an incorporated way of tackling the important principles of malnutrition such as lack of education, economic hardship, and sociocultural deprivation [70]. Every year, stunting among children causes Pakistan to lose 3% of its GDP. It is projected that every rupee spent to combat malnutrition will provide a return of 16 rupees. Well-fed children have a 33 percent higher chance of escaping poverty as adults [71, 72]. If adequate intervention programs and policies are adopted, Pakistan may likewise address the problem of malnutrition and stunting.

3.7 Malnutrition alleviation and economic growth

The link between economic advancement and improved nutrition can be either positive or negative. As per Wang and Taniguchi, good nutrition is beneficial to protracted income progress, although the benefits could be hidden by a current rapid population surge [73]. Headey investigated the effects of economic growth on dietary stunting in middle- and low-income nations across three continents. Increased food availability, poverty alleviation, and enhanced maternal and child health care, he claims, are all positives [74]. Nonetheless, even within areas, the nutritional impacts of economic expansion vary greatly. Thus according to conventional anthropometric measures, the incidence of malnutrition declined little in Sub-Saharan Africa despite decades of Economic growth faster than the overall. She also noted substantial differences in the distribution of child nutrition increases among demographic categories (such as urban vs. rural) [75].


4. Early (indirect) intervention: nutrition-sensitive programs

Despite having multiple primary goals, nutrition-sensitive programs could have a similar impact on the underlying cause of child malnutrition as ‘micronutrient’ initiatives, not only as they are more diverse and larger in scale. Nursing and parental leave laws, free iron and folic acid for pregnant women, and vitamin A for early children are all examples of national programs [76]. Farming, healthcare, social welfare, early education, schooling, irrigation, and cleanliness are among the numerous sectors participating in nutrition-sensitive initiatives [77]. Conditional cash transfers are currently one of the most researched & examined types of planned action [76]. A sort of dietary approach provides financial assistance to individuals and households in need, often in exchange for a reciprocal activity like school attendance or completing a vaccination regimen. Although its main objective is to eliminate misery, such as in an emergency, there is increasing support that they have huge development influence [78].

Figure 4 depicts interventions that would reduce child malnutrition. Various organizations are collaborating with the UN to combat hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity, and other problems. WHO (World Food Organization), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), SUN (Scaling up Nutrition), UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), and others are among these bodies. Each group devised its strategy to address the issue of malnutrition, which we will examine below. More Money for Nutrition and more nutrition for money (according to SUN Movement Strategy 2021–2025).

  • Bringing together the efforts of several groups

  • Providing food helps developing and underprivileged nations

  • Developed policies for displaced and refugee populations who are particularly prone to hunger

  • Checking and balancing the consequences for governance operations (according to SUN Movement Strategy 2021–2025)

  • Make wheat, which is Pakistan’s key food item, available to all of the country’s citizens.

  • Tracking Tools to assist nations in determining and monitoring their national objectives (FAO strategy)

  • Breastfeeding should be encouraged to avoid nutritional deficits in newborns.

Figure 4.

Strategies for child malnutrition.


5. Conclusion

Malnutrition is one of the world’s most serious health problems, affecting about 2 billion people. UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group estimates that 151 million children under the age of five are stunted, 50 million are wasted, and 17 million are severely wasted, according to UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group estimates. Malnutrition is prevalent in Pakistan. Food insecurity, poverty, sanitation, hygiene, maternal and environmental variables, education, stunting, and other factors all contribute to malnutrition. This might be due to inadequate or ineffective intervention policies and programs, which have tended to focus on a single issue at a time rather than employing multi-sectoral methods to address the various factors that contribute to stunting. Cost-effective multitier interventions must be administered during the preconception, prenatal, and especially early postoperative periods to prevent malnutrition, stunting, and wasting in children. It is suggested that a comprehensive plan be devised and implemented to address the problem of malnutrition and stunting, which includes nutrition and WASH treatments, as well as activities to improve socioeconomic status. To guarantee that particular projects are created, performed, and sustained promptly, legislators, government and non-government agencies, other parties, and, most importantly, individual contributions and support are required.



We are grateful to the GCUF Digital Library for making the publication available to us.


Conflict of interest

There is no conflict of interest.


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Written By

Arslan Ahmad, Sakhawat Riaz, Nosheen Ijaz, Maleeha Fatima and Muntaha Latif

Submitted: December 27th, 2021Reviewed: March 10th, 2022Published: April 20th, 2022