Severe Acute Malnutrition and Child Development

Written by: Jamie Malewska, Marketing Coordinator

What do you think of when you think about severe acute malnutrition (SAM)? Some of us may think of it as just being hungry, but really it is much more than that- it is an extreme state of starvation. A heartbreaking reality of SAM is that babies and toddlers are particularly susceptible to it when compared to older children and adults. The majority of deaths caused by malnutrition are among children under five years old. This accounts for around 45% of the deaths in this age group. For those who have severe acute malnutrition repeatedly in early childhood and recover, it can cause lifelong developmental consequences.

Early Childhood Development

The first three years of life are considered the most formative, acting as either a sturdy or fragile foundation for health, growth, and learning. It’s amazing to think about all the changes that occur by the time a child turns 3 years old! Babies start off not being able to hold their heads up and before you know it, they are crawling, babbling, and then standing, walking, running, and talking! What an incredible time of growth and life. During these stages, it is imperative that little ones get enough calories, vitamins, and minerals to support all these milestones. Without it, their development can be negatively impacted.

Stunting and Physical development

One of the ways that severe acute malnutrition in early childhood can impede development is by causing stunting. Stunting is when a child is not tall enough for their age because of undernutrition. This condition is largely irreversible as the body cannot “regain” lost height in the same way it can put on weight. Learning to walk can also be impacted by SAM. If a baby is just beginning to stand but is not getting enough calories to give them energy or enough nutrition to have healthy and growing muscles and bones, it can significantly delay these milestones.

Mental development

Severe acute malnutrition in early childhood can also cause lifelong mental delays. Protein and other vitamins like iron folate, and many more are essential for brain development. Without them, a baby or toddler can have difficulty with language development, learning disabilities, memory, and processing, resulting in poor school performance. Unfortunately, these impacts can follow someone for the rest of their lives making it difficult to get jobs and develop other skills.

Community Health Screenings

Though this is a difficult reality, there is hope! As we continue saving babies with severe acute malnutrition in our clinics in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have also begun conducting community health screenings in Angola to help prevent it. Our team on the ground goes into remote areas and screens local babies and toddlers for signs of malnutrition. Some are found to be severe and are referred to our clinic, while others with moderate cases can be treated in their community. Treating these moderate cases of malnutrition before they become severe can prevent little ones from having developmental delays associated with severe acute malnutrition.

Babies and toddlers are simultaneously resilient and vulnerable. This age group is the most impacted by malnutrition, but thankfully there is a simple solution. Therapeutic formula for those with severe acute malnutrition and community screenings to help prevent it. We are so grateful to our donors who continue to help save babies from malnutrition every day! Every life saved makes a world of difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *