BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Archive for February, 2017

What is Malnutrition? Malnutrition is a term that almost everyone is familiar with because it’s a topic often taught in high school, alongside “balanced diet”

Malnutrition is a preventable medical condition characterized by lack of proper nutrition due to not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or the body being unable to use the food that is eaten. Individuals are malnourished if their diet does not provide them with adequate calories and protein for maintenance and growth, or they cannot fully utilize the food they eat due to illness. Also, people can become malnourished from consuming food with insufficient, excessive or imbalanced nutrients. Several different nutrition disorders may develop, depending on which nutrients are lacking or consumed in excess. Other words that can be used to describe malnutrition include undernourishment, malnourishment, poor diet, inadequate diet and unhealthy diet, lack of food.

Children are the most visible victims of malnutrition- geographically; over 70% of malnourished children live in Asia, 26% in Africa and 4% in Latin America and the Caribbean. In many cases, these children were born by malnourished mothers, resulting in low birth weight- a risk factor for neonatal deaths and a major cause of learning disabilities, mental retardation and poor health. In these developing parts of the world, malnutrition is responsible for over 300,000 deaths per year in children younger than 5 years, contributing to over half of all deaths in children worldwide. Impacts of malnutrition include low mood, and reduced energy, muscle wasting, low sex drive and fertility issues, reduced mobility, decrease in white blood cells and corresponding immunity, increased risk of falls, infections and hospital admission, longer healing times for wounds, longer recover times from infections and reduced independence.

Malnutrition is caused by a lack of essential nutrients and results in poorer health. In developing countries malnutrition is widespread and the major cause is poverty and a corresponding lack of food to eat. In developed counties, it is caused by poor diet and eating habits, mental health problems, digestive disorders and alcoholism. Severely malnourished children typically experience slow behavioral development including mental retardation. Even after treatment, malnutrition may have long-term effects in children, causing impaired mental function and digestive problems permanently. On the other hand, adults usually make a full recovery when treated.

Clinical signs and symptoms of malnutrition include loss of weight and fat (adipose tissue), difficulties in breathing and higher risk of respiratory failure, depression, higher risk of hypothermia – abnormally low body temperature, total number of some types of white blood cells falls, higher susceptibility to feeling cold, Longer recovery from illnesses, reduced tissue mass, tiredness and fatigue, irritability, decreased social responsiveness, anxiety, and attention deficit. In more severe cases of malnutrition, the skin becomes thin, dry, inelastic, pale, and cold, cheeks look hollow and the eyes sunken as facial fat is lost, hair becomes dry, sparse, and falls out easily and finally, there may be heart, liver and respiratory failure.

Clearly malnutrition is a dangerous condition… but the good news is that it can be prevented. Since malnutrition is caused mainly by not consuming the right balance of nutrients- balanced diet- from major food groups including carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy and fats, prevention is majorly by ensuring that foods consumed contain these. However, when malnutrition is caused by other underlying conditions such as eating and digestive disorders, mental health issues and other factors, a healthcare professional should be contacted for a treatment plan. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom recommends that the average human should drink at least 1.2 liters of fluid per day, so drink enough water, eat a balanced diet and stay nourished!!!

What can you do to end malnutrition? Let’s start with this mindset… always remember that that the food you waste can save a child’s life!

The Health Belief Model (HBM) is a model used to explain and understand health behavior, especially in view of preventing a negative health outcome. The model was developed in the early 1950’s and has been used to develop health education strategies and promote healthy behaviors including condom use, seat belt use, medical compliance, and health screening use. The rationale behind the model is that a person will take a health-related action, for example, eat healthy foods, if that person feels or believes that a negative health condition, for example obesity, can be prevented.

Our culture and belief system have the potential to influence the actions (health behaviour) we take or fail to take regarding our health. Here’s an example- if, by reason of your culture or who you are, you believe that eating unhealthy foods would lead to obesity, then, it’s very likely that you’ll choose to eat healthy foods. On the contrary, if you neither see unhealthy foods as threat to your health nor perceive any benefits from it, then you’re probably not going to care about your diet. As with many models, the flaw here is that the likelihood of making a behaviour chance is not actually an action but an intention, Therefore, it is possible for one to intend to eat healthy foods (perceive weight gain or obesity as a health threat and really want the benefit not being obese) and still not follow it through by eating healthy foods. Structural factors such as cost of healthy foods and proximity to grocery stores are typical reasons why intentions may not translate to behaviour.

In general, the Health Belief Model is structured to inspire people to take positive health actions- example, HIV is a negative health outcome, so, the desire to avoid HIV can be used to motivate sexually active people to practice safe sex. Similarly, the perceived threat of a heart attack can be used to motivate people suffering high blood pressure to engage in physical activity. People choose their behaviors due to various factors such as their beliefs, cultures, education, gender, social class and economic situations. The following are constructs of the HBM:

  1. Perceived Susceptibility: A person’s belief about the probability of ending up with a negative health condition- the subjective perception of the risk of acquiring a condition.
  2. Perceived Severity: A person’s belief of how serious a condition and its consequences will be if acquired- the subjective evaluation of the seriousness of the consequences associated a condition
  3. Perceived Benefits: A person’s conviction of the effectiveness of the advised action to reduce risk or seriousness of the condition- the subjective positive gains of taking a positive health action.
  4. Perceived Barrier: A person’s opinion of the costs and difficulties associated with the advised health behaviour.
  5. Cues to Action: Reminders to take follow through with the advised and intended behaviour.
  6. Self-Efficacy: This represents the confidence in oneself to make follow through with the advised and intended behaviour.

Sustainability can be described as the processes by which natural systems continue to function, remain diverse and produce everything necessary for the ecology to remain in balance. It takes into account how humans can live in harmony with the natural world around; protect it from depletion, damage and destruction and most importantly, preserving it for the future generation. In general, sustainability and sustainable development focus on maintaining a balance between two essential but competing human needs- the need for technological and economical advancement, and the need to protect the environments in which we inhabit. Environmental sustainability is defined as the interaction of human beings specifically with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental quality. It is the ability of communities of plants, animals, micro-organisms, and their non-living surroundings to sustain themselves, and people, far into the future. Environmental sustainability ensures that the needs of today’s population are met without endangering the capability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The natural environment has the amazing ability to replenish itself through a recycling system in order to remain viable and sustain life- for example, a dead and decomposed plant adds nutrients to the soil which helps to sustain the growth of other plants. The major principle underlining environmental sustainability and sustainable development is that we, as human beings, must be able to live within our environmental limits. The consequences of going beyond these limits by stretching, wearing out and depleting the natural environment and resources are climate change and scarcity of resources. Presently, humanity is facing serious environmental and social sustainability challenges- global warming and inequity respectively. These challenges have been worsened by the dependence on innovation and technological solutions.

Human beings and other living things can interfere negatively or positively with the recycling capacity of the environment thereby influencing health, well being and survival. Unfortunately, human actions can deplete natural resources to a point where the environment cannot keep up with replenishing them; hence, the need to apply sustainability methods to support long-term viability.

However, sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s also about the health of the society- ensuring that environmental legislation and actions of humanity are conducive to the health of individuals and populations. This means fostering a strong, healthy and just society by meeting the diverse needs of all people, promoting personal well-being, social cohesion and inclusion, and creating equal opportunities. Sustainability is a broad discipline that gives insight to most aspects of the human world from business to technology to environment and the social sciences. It draws on politics, economics, philosophy, civic planning, environmental science, agriculture, corporate strategies, health assessment and planning, law and decision making and other social sciences.

The attainment of global environmental sustainability is dependent on intact and healthy ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems are crucial to maintaining health, food security, economic growth, and social peace. Unfortunately, the earth’s ecosystems have been degraded- some to the point where recovery is impossible. Natural resources such as potable water and local food sources have been compromised and compounded by climate change and natural disasters.

For over 30 years, the global community has been collaborating to preserve the environment and sustain human life and health. These collaborations have achieved some progress in key areas such as carbon emissions, desertification, organic pollutants, and biodiversity. More so, sustainable agriculture, forestry and energy are some of the specific applications of environmental sustainability where agriculture, selective logging and use of renewable energy sources respectively, are used to sustain the environment.

Pollution is a major environmental health problem which affects both developed and developing countries. It may be defined as the contamination, or introduction into the environment, of substances and particles that are harmful or poisonous, thereby negatively affecting human health and the ecosystem. The first time I heard the word pollution, I was a child- I’m pretty sure the same is the case for every one because being a consequence of man’s existence, the history of pollution is as old as the human race itself and has persisted since time immemorial. Pollutants enter the environment through a number of natural and/or anthropogenic activities- consequently; increased combustion of fossil fuels in the last century is the reason for the present change in the atmospheric composition.

Different kinds of pollution include Air, Water, Soil, Thermal, Radioactive, Noise and Light pollution- the most common being Air and Water pollution. Frequent pollutants of air are carbon-monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide while water can be polluted by sewage, microorganisms, chemicals, suspended matter and oil spillage. Most people experience pollution-related symptoms such as watery eyes, coughing, wheezing and respiratory irritation, in the case of air pollution. However, the actual risk of health deterioration from pollution depends on an individual’s current health status, type and concentration of the pollutant, and the length of exposure to the pollutant. Individuals more susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution are those suffering heart and lung diseases, pregnant women, outdoor workers or athletes and children whose lungs are not fully developed.

In 2013, World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) assessed and concluded that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic, particularly associated wih lung cancer. Other complications such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, stressed heart and lungs, damaged cells in the respiratory system, accelerated aging of the lungs, loss of lung capacity, decreased lung function and development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema have been attributed to exposure to air pollutants. The implicated air pollutants causing most health problems are small particulate matter of 10 microns or less in diameter (PM10) and ozone. An estimated 3 million premature deaths worldwide were attributed to outdoor air pollution alone in 2012. About 87% of these deaths occurred in low and middle income countries, which are disproportionately burdened by the health consequences of air pollution. Concurrently, water pollution results in disruption of food-chains, lead poisoning from eating contaminated sea foods and ill health or death of aquatic animals and lives that depend on the water bodies. It also causes diseases such as cholera, gastroenteritis and dysentery.

Some major air and water pollution disasters in history include Great Smog of London, Southeast Asian haze, Kuwaiti oil fires, Woburn-Massachusetts Water Contamination, Ghana Cyanide Spill, Elk River-West Virginia Chemical Spill, Walkerton-Canada Water Contamination Disaster and Zhuozhang River- Changzhi China Toxic chemicals leak.

Going forward, there are several measures to address pollution and preserve our health and that of our world. Examples include increased use of clean technologies that reduce industrial emissions, clean modes of power generation, cleaner heavy duty diesel vehicles and low-emissions vehicles and fuels and renewable combustion-free power sources (like solar, wind or hydropower), improved management of urban and agricultural waste, increased energy efficiency of buildings and compacting of cities, improved strategies for waste reduction- separation, recycling, reuse and anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. Additionally, we must do the little we can as individuals by being friendly to the environment!