Malnutrition Lesson – Part 1


Here is the first of several posts about the problem of chronic malnutrition in Guatemala, and WK’s new partnership with USAID. If you follow along with us over the next few days, you will be dazzling your friends with your knowledge by the weekend!

As many of you know, chronic malnutrition is widespread in rural Guatemala – resulting in some of the highest rates of stunting in the world. In the communities that WK works, up to 80% of the children we see suffers from nutrition-related stunting. But the catch is that most of these kids don’t look ‘sick’. In fact, they look pretty darned adorable. So, let’s talk a bit about malnutrition – especially what we have experienced in the communities where we work.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition essentially means “bad nourishment”. It concerns not enough as well as too much food, or the wrong types. There are two types of malnutrition that we typically see in the developing world: acute and chronic. Severe acute malnutrition is defined by a very low weight for height, by visible severe wasting, or by the presence of nutritional oedema. In other words, these kids ‘look sick’. They look like they are wasting away.

Although acute malnutrition does occur in Guatemala, chronic malnutrition is truly pervasive. Children who suffer from chronic malnutrition fail to grow to their full genetic potential, both mentally and physically. The main symptom of this condition is stunting – shortness in height compared to others of the same age group – and takes a relatively long time to develop. WK measures the length off all children in our program, to assess the extent of their stunting.

Okay, so what? Why is it so important to prevent stunting in babies and toddlers? According to the World Bank, growth failure before the age of two can have profound and irreversible effects on a child’s ability to learn, and produce income over their lifetimes. It can result in permanently impaired IQ and social development, and makes a child more susceptible to chronic disease. These children begin school later, quit earlier and miss more days. Furthermore, women who are stunted are far more likely to have stunted children. And, all of this is determined in the first 24 months of life.

For you visual learners, you can visit, for a video produced by ABC’s 20/20 of our Medical Director, Dr. Peter Rohloff. In this video, Peter summarizes the effects of malnutrition in the communities where we work.