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Causes of Malnutrition

Long-term success in improving nutrition requires addressing the factors that allow malnutrition to persist. Underlying factors include the care and social support of women and children, agriculture and access to critical public services such as health clinics, and water and sanitation facilities.

Care of Children and Mothers

Mothers who are provided with knowledge and support are powerful advocates for the health and nutrition of their children. Too often, however, women lack information about appropriate care and feeding practices. Women also must be supported—physically, financially, and socially—by family and community members to do what is best or what is needed.

Food Security Status of the Household

The vast majority of malnutrition occurs in rural farming households. Poor farmers often lack the land or resources they need to grow enough or the right kind of food. A community’s traditional staple food (rice, cassava, or corn) may be popular but lack nutrients. Foods such as milk, eggs, fruits, and vegetables are important for nutrition but are often too expensive for poor families. All of these factors contribute to how well young children are fed.

Access to Basic Health Care Services

Many of the lives lost to infectious diseases and malnutrition could be saved if mothers had access to basic health information and services. Trained healthcare workers can regularly check a woman’s nutritional status during pregnancy, encourage breastfeeding when the newborn arrives, and advise a pregnant mother about the nutrition needs of her growing baby. Sick mothers can be treated and babies can receive vaccinations. Children’s health and nutritional status can be monitored and appropriate advice and care can be provided to treat infectious diseases such as diarrhea.

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