Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) happens when the body does not have enough protein. Hence, it is common among children in poor areas. It also happens in children with conditions that prevent them from taking in nutrients. If left untreated, it can lead to death.
Primary. It happens when the food that is eaten does not have enough protein.
Secondary. It occurs because of problems from other illnesses. These prevent the body from taking in nutrients. For instance, AIDS, cancer, and kidney failure are some. It is common in children who experienced starvation.
Kwashiorkor. Moreover, it happens when mothers stop nursing the child. Also, it appears at about the age of 12 months. It can also happen in a child’s formative years. The most common signs are swelling, dry, peeling skin, and change in hair color.
Marasmus. It is the result of a total lack of calories. Also, its common signs are small growth and weakening of muscles and tissues. It can develop from the sixth month up to the first year.
The following are signs to look out for PEM:
- Unintended weight loss. Check for 10-20% body weight loss.
- Weakened grip
- Difficulty with high-energy tasks
- Difficulty eating normal-sized meals
- Slow heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Low body temperature
- Wrinkles in skin
- Always feeling tired
- Dry and thin hair
- Wounds on the skin. Wounds take a long time to heal. Healing depends on good nutrition.
- Thin arms and legs
- Small for their age
- Muscle wasting. Protein is needed by the muscle for growth and repair. Without it, a person will experience less lean body mass and muscle strength. Therefore, a person can also have cramping, weakness, and soreness in their muscles.
- Infection. The immune system functions best with proper nutrition. Hence, it includes the right amount of protein intake.
The main cause of PEM is a lack of protein in the body. Likewise, those who have it do not have enough protein and energy. Also, protein helps the body to build and grow. However, there is no system in the body to store excess protein, unlike carbs and fat. It can also be the result of other conditions that stop the body’s protein absorption.
4. Risk Factors
Malnutrition in children that leads to PEM is very common among poor areas. Also, children who have diseases that include diarrhea are more likely to have it. And those who have conditions that need a stay in the hospital have a high risk of getting it.
A thorough physical inquiry is needed to diagnose PEM. Doctors will check for the following:
- Eating habits
- Changes in weight
- Composition of body and fat
- Muscle strength
- Presence of other conditions
- Delays in development
- Nutritional status
- The thickness of the skin
- The thickness of the upper arm
PEM treatment focuses on proper nutrition. The main goal is to bring back normal body makeup. Doctors will also cure the condition that causes PEM. They may suggest feeding through tubes. Therefore, it is for patients who cannot or will not eat foods rich in protein. It will help supply their nutrients. Therefore, severe protein undernutrition needs fluid correction. Medicines can help to promote protein breakdown in the body. After this, the patient can now eat. Also, it will prevent further weakening of the body. The patient will eat food that they can handle. They may also benefit from physical therapy. PEM may cause their muscles to weaken.
Malnutrition in children is fatal if 40% of body weight is lost. Hence, death can happen because of heart failure. Fluid imbalance and low body temperature can lead to it too. The long-term effects of childhood undernutrition are not yet sure. Some recover completely. However, some may have conditions that will last long. Additionally, It includes difficulty in taking in nutrients and mental retardation.
One can easily prevent protein-energy malnutrition. Breastfeeding is the most effective way, so do it for at least six months. The mother’s milk contains antibodies. Hence, it helps build a healthy immune system and nutrition for the baby. However, call a doctor first before feeding your child with solid foods. Also, it will ensure that the child gets enough supply of nutrients. Besides, these nutrients are fit for his/her needs.
Moreover, eat food rich in protein. However, avoid meat with a high amount of salt. Go for lean or low-fat meat and poultry. Also, eat seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids such as sardines, salmon, and trout.