08/22/2014 05:17 EDT | Updated 10/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Malnourished Kids Don't Always Look The Way You Think


Pronunciation: /ˌmal-n(y) u̇ -ˈtrish-ən/

: faulty nutrition due to inadequate or unbalanced intake of nutrients or their impaired assimilation or utilization¹

Malnutrition. Close your eyes and picture it. What do you see? Something like this, maybe?


Now picture this child in your community. You would be outraged, right? You would scream child abuse, call authorities, and ensure this child was removed from their home and family immediately, right? And rightly so.

But what about the other side of malnutrition: the side that we see each and every day in our society?

Malnutrition simply means bad nourishment. It includes under-nutrition (what we are used to being described as malnutrition and were told about as kids when we didn't eat all our food at the table) or over-nutrition (the consumption of too many calories and nutrient deprived "junk" food, leading to weight gain). This weight gain has lead to a steady increase of overweight and obese individuals. It affects all races, genders, ages, and socioeconomic statuses.

We know obesity has become an epidemic. It is one of the leading causes of heart disease and metabolic syndromes. It leads to a deterioration in the quality of our life and often the length, too. Some experts have gone as far as saying childhood obesity is such an epidemic that this current generation of youngsters will have a shorter life expectancy than that of their parents!

In 2011, news broke of an eight-year-old boy who was taken from his home and placed into foster care because his weight had reached over 200 pounds. That's more than three times what the average boy his age weighs. His mom was accused of medical neglect for being unable to get his weight down. He had developed sleep apnea, a condition in which your breathing becomes very shallow or actually stops while sleeping. His weight also put him at an increased risk for high blood pressure and diabetes.

There was a lot of discussion regarding the court decision to remove the boy from his home. Those against the decision state that the boy was not in any imminent danger. This argument does not even begin to make sense to me. When does the danger become imminent -- when it's too late? When he is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease? Is the child who is starving to death in more imminent danger than the one who is feeding to death?

Fast-forward to almost three years later and things have not improved much. I don't pretend to know the answers to this, but it's time we took a long, hard look at our society and at what has become socially acceptable. It's time more programs were offered to help families, teachers, and communities cope with this epidemic and be given real sustainable solutions. It's time that multi-billion dollar corporations were held accountable for how our food is produced, grown, and packaged.

Is it going to be easy? No. Will it happen overnight? Absolutely not. Can it happen? YES!

Currently 34 per cent of the adult population is obese, and another 34 per cent of the population is overweight. In 1964, 42 per cent of the adult population were smokers; currently, 19.8 per cent of adults are. Society fought against smoking. Tobbaco companies were forced to change. Lobbyists lost their jobs. Governments were forced to change. It happened. Society fought back against smoking. Society won.

Isn't it time we do the same with obesity?

The next time you think malnutrition, think this as well:


What will it take for you to change?

¹malnutrition. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary. Retrieved November 29, 2011, from