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Study Links Malnutrition to Six Million Child Deaths Annually

Malnutrition continues to be one of the most serious problems in the developing world. A new report from the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau says malnutrition plays a role in the deaths of almost six million children each year, most of them in developing nations. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Each day some 16,000 children, or almost six million each year, die from nutrition-related causes.

Richard Skolnik of the Population Reference Bureau, a policy research group, says when children are underweight it weakens their immune systems.

"Underweight is such an important contributor to child death because it weakens the immunity of young children and makes them much more susceptible to illness and death from a variety of infectious diseases like pneumonia, like measles, and like diarrhea," he said.

The Population Reference Bureau says a large number of these deaths could be prevented through low-cost, highly effective, well-known interventions, such as fortifying foods with iodized salt or adding iron supplements to children's diets. In some cases, these solutions cost only a few dollars per child per year.

In its new report, the Population Reference Bureau found the largest number of underweight children are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Skolnik cautions that poor nutrition in the womb and in childhood can have life-long irreversible effects. "It is extremely important to understand that once malnutrition has damaged the physical and mental development of young children, most of that damage can never be recovered," he said.

In an ironic twist, the study found that obesity is becoming a growing problem in some developing nations. In Morocco, for example, 21 percent of women are obese, while 34 percent of women in Mexico are severely overweight.