Malnutrition Here and Abroad

As an IDS major and knowing the vast reach of malnutrition due to poverty and lack of access to food and clean water, it is always so depressing to me that people in the developed world choose to be malnourished. The social media site, Tumblr, is full of girls desperate to become thin. And not just thin, skinny. But not just skinny, skeletal. You need only scroll for a short time through the “pro ana” tag to realize that eating disorders are taking over young girls like an epidemic. Their one goal is to be as thin as they possibly can by not eating, purging, and exercising to dangerous excess, with no regard to nutrition or the effects of such a lifestyle on their bodies and their future. Here is a widely spread “diet” followed religiously by those afflicted with EDs:

These girls have joined into a “sisterhood” of lifestyle as they share photos of girls with protruding bones, as further damage is done psychologically, as well as physically. Their posts look like lighter skinned versions of the horrifying photos we see of impoverished African children wasting away to nothing. I wonder if these girls with their image and eating disorders feel sympathy for the starving in developing countries, or envy.

       found on “pro ana” blog with caption “GORGEOUS!”    


Malnourished African child

We all know (or at least should) that nutrition is vital to our health, and without the proper intake our bodies cannot perform to their peak. For example, in 1915 the disease Polegra was occurring in institutions where it showed itself by a telling horrible rash. Once thought to be an infectious disease, it was discovered that it was caused by inadequate nutrition, lack of niacin (Vitamin B3) to be exact. Once the children in the orphanages were given properly balanced meals to replace their former diets, the disease and rash were cured.

Another case is of Vitamin A deficiency, which can be found in areas where the staple crop is the single source of food, such as rice. This deficiency causes ophthalmological crisis, such as night blindness, perforation, and complete blindness. When children were given a few drops of Vitamin A in the form of oil droplets, symptoms (that had not yet reached perforation) were completely reversed by the next day. It was also realized that by curing the deficiency of Vitamin A, children were at least 1/3 less likely to die from preventable diseases afflicting the third world.

As Landecker talks about in her piece on epigenetics and food, nutrition can do more than harm bodily function; it can affect genetic code which can be passed onto offspring. Poor nutrient intake during pregnancy can be responsible for a whole host of possible health ramifications in the offspring, such as what we have previously discussed regarding CVD.

Unfortunately, in developing areas in the world, where there is little access to nutrient rich foods and clean water, diarrheal disease is heavily prevalent, making what is eating less important because nothing is able to be absorbed. Water and nutrients cannot be absorbed by the body, so it is passed as waste. These people are at a severe disadvantage because their disorders are cyclical, as lack of nutritional resources are lacking, they are more susceptible to DD, which worsens their malnutrition.

Let me be clear, that I understand EDs to be a legitimate problem among girls. For many of them, it is not a choice, but a compulsion, whether because of psychological distress, encouragement from society’s idea of beautiful, or other personal reasons. However, I do take issue with encouraging others to do the same. There are resources for recovery such as the supportive Tumblr society of “fitblrs” promoting fitness, clean eating, and healthy lifestyles; there are books on intuitive eating geared specifically toward those recovering from EDs; and iPhone apps like fooducate (which is good for anyone and everyone trying to eat healthy) which allows you to scan foods in the supermarket and receive a health rating developed by scientists and nutritionists.

This got a little off topic about DD and the developing world, but I feel that nutrition/malnutrition is important to address in both the developing and developed areas of the world.

One thought on “Malnutrition Here and Abroad

  1. The post made me want to cry -considering all the women of the West that are suffering from malnutrition when that need not be the case. While from an outsider’s perspective, it looks like these women choose to be malnurished, Anorexia truely is a disease of the mind. I have had several dear and close friends come close to dying from this disease. What is not seen from an outsider is the way that the disease overtakes victims’ minds. They lose all sense of control of their thoughts as if the disease has a personality of its own. It enslaves them and forces them to its will. Many of these women want to be free, they want to be healthy, and normal- but the disease takes over their mind and thoughts. So yes, an anorexic woman might look at a malnurished child and be jealous- but we must understand that it is not their fault. It is their disease that evokes that emotion.

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