Academic Publication

The Relationship Between Childhood Malnutrition & Infectious Diseases

Kenzo Kimura
Maya Gong
Madison Hart
Victor Liao
Youth Researchers Program, UNICEF Evaluation Office
Publication Year:
  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Childhood health and nutrition is an important global health issue. Many countries have begun to prioritize the well being of children because they want to prevent mortality and morbidity at a young age. Mitigating childhood malnutrition, including wasting, stunting, and micronutrient deficiencies are important health goals for every country. In fact, the prevalence of malnutrition around the world today is extremely high, as there are about 161 million children who are chronically undernourished and about 51 million children who are acutely undernourished (UNICEF 8). If left untreated, childhood malnutrition, including undernutrition, can develop into serious health problems in adulthood. Specifically, malnutrition affects individuals by causing lower fat oxidation, lower energy expenditures, insulin resistance, increased risk for diabetes, and hypertension (Martins 1838). Given the health effects and the magnitude of this situation, it is no surprise that malnutrition has become a global health policy issue.

Besides childhood malnutrition, another health priority is the study of infectious diseases. The World Health Organization classifies infectious diseases as “pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that can be spread, directly or indirectly, from one person to another” (“Infectious Diseases”). Examples of infectious diseases include influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, and dengue fever. Unfortunately, previous studies have confirmed that human actions have caused more infectious diseases to emerge (Lindahl 2). For instance, the loss of biodiversity from urbanization and climate change have proliferated the transmission and severity of these diseases (Bloom 6). As the global population increases, it is expected that infectious diseases will continue to impact human health.

While the negative health implications of childhood malnutrition and infectious diseases have been individually researched, the relationship between childhood malnutrition and infectious diseases is less clear. The current report utilizes four case studies in the United States, China, Philippines, and Nigeria to investigate how political and social policies can mitigate childhood malnutrition and infectious diseases. It is known that the purpose of the human immune system is to fight infections. However, with a weakened nutritional status (e.g. wasting or stunting), the immune system’s response may not be able to sufficiently fight off the infection. Given this information, there are certain policy suggestions that can be made to prevent the morbidity of both malnutrition and infectious disease.

Food insecurity in the United States disproportionately impacts infants and adolescents from low socioeconomic status. A lack of nutrients, including protein and calories, could further complicate influenza, which disproportionately affects young children. This situation means that government policies should prioritize infant health and maintain a high standard of primary and antenatal care. In addition, as seen in China, the dual burden of malnutrition and tuberculosis affects rural areas more than urban areas. This means that future health care and government policies must be accessible and consistent for the entire population. Finally, the Philippines and Nigeria case studies demonstrate that there could be a direct association between undernutrition and the severity of Dengue/Malaria. To limit transmission and lower the risk factor for these diseases, governments are experimenting new treatments and ensuring citizens have access to mosquito nets. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic is different from these case studies, the global response should be similar. That is, governments should ensure individuals have access to healthy food services, prioritize the health of young children through preventative services, maximize health services to all locations, and collaborate on potential treatments.


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