The silent killer: malnutrition is a global problem – including in Germany

The silent killer: malnutrition is a global problem – including in Germany

More than a third of the world’s population is malnourished. The undersupply of nutrients is also becoming a problem in German hospitals.

At first glance, the issue of malnutrition is usually only associated with the sometimes difficult supply situations in developing countries in the Global South. In fact, extreme nutrient deficiency is increasingly becoming a serious problem for patients in German hospitals. But what does malnutrition actually mean?

Among other things, an insufficient supply of all the nutrients that are important for the body is a given when you are significantly underweight. If you don’t eat enough, you are most likely malnourished. But even people who regularly eat large meals can suffer from malnutrition. Because when it comes to food intake, not only the quantity is decisive. Online and in advice magazines, for example, there is often talk of a balanced diet. This means that the food used to prepare meals should contain all the important nutrients that a healthy person needs for all of their bodily functions.

People of normal weight can also suffer from malnutrition

Accordingly, people of normal weight, whose meals consist almost exclusively of carbohydrates and fatty foods, can also suffer from malnutrition. Because in order to stay fit, proteins and many different vitamins, minerals and trace elements are also important. Malnutrition is therefore often referred to as the “silent killer” because in many cases those affected are not even aware of their suffering.

According to the Global Hunger Index 2022, more than two billion people worldwide are affected by malnutrition. There are many reasons for this, but the majority of those affected still come from the regions of the Global South that are often referred to as “developing countries”.

In many cases, however, an actual food shortage is not the reason for the nutrient deficiency at hand. As “Deutschlandfunk Kultur” reported back in 2014 in the article “The Silent Killer in Bangladesh”, regular meals in many places have long consisted exclusively of starchy foods such as rice, cassava or corn. In most regions, this unbalanced diet has a tragic history that always follows a similar course: Traumatized by previous famines, countries like Bangladesh replaced vegetable fields, orchards and pastures for cattle with large-scale rice farming in order to be able to at least secure the basic needs of their own population in the future.

Malnutrition impairs brain development in children

Children in particular suffer from this one-sided diet with rice, because it inhibits their development. Serious health problems are possible consequences. In an interview with Deutschlandfunk Kultur, Professor Tahmeed Ahmed from Dhaka warned of the consequences of hidden hunger: “It has been scientifically proven that malnutrition also severely impairs the brain development of affected children. They fail in school because they lack cognitive skills. As adults, they will have trouble understanding things.”

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Malnutrition in Germany: hospital study provides shocking insights

All over the world, children from the Global South are particularly at risk of malnutrition. But even in Germany, the insufficient intake of nutrients is a widespread problem – even under medical supervision. As the online portal “DocCheck” reports in the article “Malnutrition: The silent killer”, “every fourth to fifth patient admitted to a German clinic” is at risk of malnutrition. In particular, women and patients who have lost a lot of weight in the past or who are generally in poor health are often affected by malnutrition. However, there are major differences in the respective specialist areas: While gynecology and neurology tend to struggle less with the problem, geriatrics and gastroenterology often treat patients who are not sufficiently supplied with nutrients.

What is particularly shocking is the finding that the state of malnutrition sometimes worsens during the hospital stay. The professor for clinical nutrition in old age at the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg Dorothee Volkert explained in an interview with “DocCheck”: “Basically, nutrition in connection with acute illnesses is often difficult. On the one hand, the body needs more energy due to illness, but at the same time the appetite is lacking and less is eaten. That often goes hand in hand with weight loss.” To ensure that the “silent killer” malnutrition no longer unnecessarily endangers lives in German institutions, Volkert believes that the nutritional awareness of employees should definitely be improved.

This article only contains general information on the respective health topic and is therefore not intended for self-diagnosis, treatment or medication. In no way does it replace a visit to the doctor. Unfortunately, our editorial team cannot answer individual questions about clinical pictures.


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