Maternal Malnourishment and Offspring Health

Holly Koch

We’ve cried during the commercials, had our hearts broken by the photos, and been enraged by the news…people around the world are hungry. Starving. People dying, wasting away of starvation. However, malnourishment is not always as simple as no food = death. As discussed in the Kuzawa and Sweet article, lack of nutrition can having lasting effects on a child that is lucky enough to make it to adulthood.

Obvious: an undernourished mother makes for undernourished offspring. But what are the consequences?

While the article is framed by the inequalities between “races” in America regarding Cardiovascular Disease, we can extrapolate from the research applicable statistics to the third world. For example, “Long-term impacts of early life undernutrition or stress have been proposed to help explain patterns of adult CVD risk in a variety of ecological, political economic, and cultural settings” (3). This is directly related to the health of the mother, which in the developing world, there is rampant malnourishment and what I would imagine to be incredibly high stress levels (i.e., how will I feed my unborn child?). The article goes on to explain how malnourishment of the mother affects the health of the fetus through epigenetics: “Building from the assumption that a baby born small had been poorly nourished prior to birth, they proposed that these relationships were the outcome of adjustments made by the fetus in response to a compromised intrauterine nutritional environment” (4). These “compromises” then cause hardships after birth, which the authors believe can result in CVD and other afflictions.

Malnutrition of the mother during pregnancy, combined with further nutrient deficiency during childhood, due to lack of food or being afflicted with chronic diarrhea, continue to hurt the infant, child, and, bittersweetly, the adult. As you’ll see in this Aljazeera video, however, hunger is getting worse, not better, meaning the afflictions associated with it will worsen as well.

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