Saturday, May 18, 2024


“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

— William Wilberforce


Malnutrition in America

overweight boy holding broccoli

Opinion | While the news is full of stories of malnutrition elsewhere in the world, many people don’t realize that malnutrition is a problem in the United States, as well.

Malnutrition is the condition that develops when the body is deprived of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.1 The term malnutrition addresses three broad groups of conditions:

  • Undernutrition, which includes stunting (low height-for-age) and underweight (low weight-for-height)
  • Overweight, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (heart disease, stroke, diabetes)
  • Micronutrient-related malnutrition, which includes micronutrient deficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals) or micronutrient excess.2

Today, approximately 40 million Americans and 12 million children are food insecure, meaning they are often forced to skip meals and buy cheap non-nutritious food. Many families suffering from hunger and poverty live in areas where fresh, unprocessed healthy food is not available or is expensive.3

Food insecurity is a critical social determinant of health and a complex problem that does not exist in isolation. Americans from all income groups fall short of meeting federal dietary guidance- consuming diets too low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, and consuming diets high in added sugar, sodium and solid fats. Low-income families can be especially vulnerable to poor nutrition and obesity, due to additional risk factors associated with inadequate household resources as well as under-resourced communities.

Lack of food access is likely to cause health disparities for those of low socioeconomic status (LSES). Obesity, for example, disproportionately affects children who grow up with lower SES, compared to those with higher SES. The dual burden of malnutrition (obesity or a non-communicable disease coupled with malnutrition) is prevalent in more than half of all malnourished households that reside in the U.S. Many families do not have the resources they need to meet basic needs and these challenges increase a family’s risk of food insecurity.4

Malnutrition in children

In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a groundbreaking policy statement highlighting the importance and irreversibility of the 1000–day window.5 The nutrition children receive during their first 10006 days—from conception until their second birthday—has a profound impact on how they develop. No amount of catch-up can completely fix the lost time for the physical, mental and cognitive growth. Key nutrients that support neurodevelopment including protein, zinc, choline, folate, iodine, vitamins A, D, B6, and B12. Malnourishing the brain can produce a lower IQ- leading to a lifetime for chronic medical problems, increasing the risk of obesity, hypertension and diabetes and cost that individual future achievement and job success.

Malnutrition in young adults

In the U.S., more than half of all adults are now overweight—a condition that reduces work productivity and lowers life expectancy. Obesity is more dangerous in young adults because it increases the chances for chronic illness including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, gall bladder disease and some types of cancer. According to 2017 pentagon data,7 71 percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 were ineligible to serve in the United States military. Put another way: Over 24 million of the 34 million people of that age group could not join the armed forces—even if they wanted to.

Malnutrition in the elderly

Older adults are at risk of compromised nutrition status because of physical changes associated with aging, as well as cognitive, psychological, and social factors such as dementia, depression isolation and limited income.8 Malnutrition in older adults can lead to higher risk of hospitalization, muscle weakness and decreased bone mass which often results in falls and fractures, a weakened immune system and even increased risk of death.

Today, we can tackle malnutrition by prioritizing public policies that ensure the provision of adequate nutrients and healthy eating during the crucial 1000 days that would ensure that all children have an early foundation for optimal neurodevelopment. Increased utilization of federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Child Nutrition Programs are important, effective, and widely available interventions to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable Americans. Research demonstrates that these programs9 can reduce food insecurity, alleviate poverty, support economic stability, improve dietary intake and health, protect against obesity, and boost learning and development. 

Connecting people to the federal nutrition programs is a critical way to educate, support and improve the nation’s health. To address obesity in parallel with food insecurity, non-profit organizations must focus on offering low-income recipients nutrient-dense foods as opposed to calorie-dense foods. Currently, agencies commonly measure success by quantifying the people or meals served. Addressing the dual burden of malnutrition requires a shift in thinking from the quantity of people served to the quality of food served and the impact on individuals.10

This article was reprinted with permission. It was originally published by Focus for Health.

Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers.  The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.

1 Malnutrition. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
2 Malnutrition. World Health Organization Feb. 16, 2018.
3 Hunger in the U.S. | World Poverty & Hunger. Why Hunger.
4 Understand Food Security. Hunger Health.
5 Weber L.  More Than Half Of American Babies Are At Risk For Malnourishment. HuffPost Feb. 3, 2018.
6 Schwarzenberg SJ et. al. Malnutrition. Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days to Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. 7 Spoehr T, Handy B. The Looming National Security Crisis: Young Americans Unable to Serve in the Military. The Heritage Foundation Feb. 13, 2018.
8 Mangels AR. Malnutrition in Older Adults. American Journal of Nursing March 2018; 118(3): p 34-41.
9 The Impact of Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Poor Nutrition on Health and Well-Being. Food Research & Action Center December 2017.
10 Shifler Bowers K et. al. The dual burden of malnutrition in the United States and the role of non-profit organizations. Prev Med Rep December 2018; 12: 294–297.

10 Responses

  1. Improved public education about this is paramount. Basic facts about nutrition and health should be taught to every high school student (and I might add, even more so and in much greater depth to every medical student).
    As has already been done here and there, even in some urban areas, people can also be given both the space and the training and even seeds needed to grow their own vegetables, getting back to something like the kind of home gardening that became commonplace for a while during WW2. That could all be done for a much lower price than the US government is currently spending on promoting the Big Ag production of poison laden GMO crops using ground resource destroying mono-cropping on corporate controlled mega-farms.

  2. This article is missing the point. The reason malnutrition in America is so severe is that the soil is dead and empty. The nutrients are not in the food! Without quality food, health is not possible.

    1. I agree 1000% Anna. and to not mention the bad chemicals like Nitrates and Nitrites they put in our food, growth hormones and antibiotics injected in animals, plus all the sugar added to the food to make it taste good because the food is depleted from nutrients. When the food is depleted from nutrients, it tastes like paper and that why the food industry adds so much sugar in our food. It’s freakin horrible. You gotta watch the video “The 12 Deadly Foods” at It’s waking up a lot of people.

  3. And even the ones that CAN afford healthy food, sometimes prefer to eat out all the time. Most restaurants do no longer serve fresh food. It all has been warmed up in the oven or even a microwave. Has anybody tested how little nutrition is left after reheating the same food ? And about the safety of microwaved food ?
    It is a pity that so little people take the time for home cooking. I am not fond of cooking myself, but if you cook once or twice a week, then freeze portions, and cook only one item every day, like rice or potatoes, you at least get some good stuff !

  4. It is very sad that our government allows food products to sold that have low or no nutritional value. People need to be educated and learn the risk of eating inferior food products. Education starts with more emphasis on making good choices by reading labels knowing the difference between whole foods and chemical additives, avoid all processed foods. know how to choose healthy meats, dairy, fats, vegetables, fruits, grains and avoid chemical additives and preservatives.

  5. Most people have no idea that the food supply, even eating healthy,  is now lacking in nutrition compared to 1940 for example. The result of comparing data available in 1940 with that in 1991 demonstrates that in every sub group of foods investigated there has been a substantial loss in their mineral content including magnesium. Magnesium levels have dropped 24% in vegetables and 16% in fruits for example from 1940-1991

    The master mineral magnesium is missing from most of our topsoil, leaving the vast majority, perhaps 70%, with a failure to meet even the USDA’s recommended dietary allowance amount which some experts believe may be below optimum levels. In cities with the highest magnesium water content, only 30% of the RDA can be obtained by drinking two liters of tap water a day. In most cities, only a meager 10-20% of the daily requirement can be obtained. That leaves 70–90% of the daily magnesium requirement that must be obtained from other sources. Unfortunately, it is also difficult to reliably supply our bodies with sufficient magnesium, even from a good, balanced whole foods diet. Newborns may start deficient due to the deficiency of the mother. Modern agricultural methods favor the universal use of NPK fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Both potassium and phosphorus are antagonists of magnesium in the soil, and on calcareous soils create a relative magnesium deficiency (the magnesium present is bound and therefore unavailable to the crop). On sandy or loamy soils that are slightly acid, an actual magnesium deficiency often exists, as the magnesium leaches from the soil and is also unavailable to the crop. This leaching also occurs in response to acid rain. Magnesium, in fact, is one of the most depleted minerals in farm soils. This is just ONE example.

    Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow, and now plants have been getting more carbon dioxide from CO2 levels that were documented to be rising in the atmosphere. The problem is that this extra carbon dioxide REDUCES the nutrition level in the plants! And so this carbon dioxide increase is going to have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet by the reduction in nutrition!  Measurements of fruits and vegetables show that their minerals, vitamin and protein content has already measurably dropped over the past 50 to 70 years.  The recent studies found that across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. The ratio of carbohydrates/sugar to minerals was going up as carbon dioxide levels increase more into the soil and the plants.  

    About 70 percent of the processed foods average people consume daily actually contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients in the USA. The existing few studies that analyzed GMO foods already on the market found that these modified foods were significantly lower in nutritional value than non-GMO foods. This means that the long-term consumption of mainly GMO foods in one’s diet could bring about nutritional deficiencies as well.  Even the american academy of environmental medicine tells Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM foods.

  6. Look at the food in our senior centers. I was told I could not give my mother vitamins – they had to be by prescription & many doctors don’t believe in vitamins.

  7. We have two people to thank for this country’s state of ill health. Ansel Keys and Stanley Plotkin. solution: Eat Meat and Take No Vaccines and watch the country heal.

  8. Think about it folks. A regular size apple only has about 85 IU of Vitamin A. I take 20,000 IU of Vitamin A because I weigh 200 lbs. I would have to eat about 235 apples to get 20K IU of vitamin A. This is why we must supplement. It’s mandatory.

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