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What is Acute Malnutrition?

Acute malnutrition

Acute malnutrition is a devastating epidemic. Worldwide, some 55 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, 19 million of these suffer from the most serious type – severe acute malnutrition. Every year, 3.1 million children die of malnutrition.

The human body needs energy and nutrients to function. If food intake is inadequate, the body begins to break down body fat and muscle, the metabolism begins to slow down, thermal regulation is disrupted, the immune system is weakened, and kidney function is impaired.

Decreased food consumption, increased energy expenditure, and illness result in a poor nutritional state known as malnutrition (or undernutrition). Malnutrition is associated with increased illness and death, reduced educational achievements, productivity and economic capacity. Poverty, inequality, and malnutrition are often passed from one generation to the next.

Malnutrition manifests itself in the form of micronutrient deficiencies, stunting (also known as chronic malnutrition), and/or acute malnutrition.

Acute malnutrition is a form of under-nutrition caused by a decrease in food consumption and/or illness that results in sudden weight loss or oedema (fluid retention). Acute malnutrition can be moderate or severe, and prolonged malnutrition can cause stunted growth, otherwise known as stunting. Stunting in early childhood has health consequences that can affect children throughout their entire lives. Action Against Hunger treats acute malnutrition with a combination of community-based management and therapeutic foods/Ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs).