Malnutrition: What is it?


About Malnutrition

Malnutrition is an issue that is caused by deficiency, imbalance, and nutrients and can affect your energy. This problem can be a result of a poor diet or lack of proper nutrients that are required for the normal working of the body of any person.

When the energy consumption of a person becomes imbalanced i.e. too low or too high, malnutrition can be caused. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition is a single but tough threat to public health globally. It is because approximately 45% of deaths of children under the age of 5 years are being caused by malnutrition all around the world.

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition refers to the imbalance of the dietary nutrients. It’s not being caused by the deficiency of food a person is intaking in his regular routine only. It can be caused by improper or wrong types of food consumption too. But in most cases all around the world malnutrition is being caused by the lack of proper nutrients.

An incorrect diet may result in an absence of vitamins, and other indispensable nutritional materials. In addition to this, too small amounts of protein can also cause “kwashiorkor”, the symptoms of which are manifested in a swollen stomach. Also, the absence of vitamin C can cause scurvy.

Scurvy is seldom found in industrialized nations, although it can affect older people, if they consume excessive amounts of alcohol, together with not eating enough fresh fruits or vegetables. It is also occasionally found in infants when their families have not ensured that they have been provided with a varied and balanced diet.

According to a report of WHO more than 462 million people around the world are suffering from malnutrition and stunted development has affected more than 159 million children all around the world. If a child is suffering from the problem of malnutrition then there are greater chances of that person to suffer from long-term health issues and may have to face some challenges in their educational activities or may suffer from the limited work opportunities in his future.

Due to the issue of malnutrition, they may face a slow recovery process of wounds or any other illness which can lead the individual more susceptible to any disease.


Major symptoms or signs of Malnutrition may include the following:

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Lack of hunger and thirst, resulting in an unwillingness to eat or drink
  • Weariness and irritability
  • Inability to urinate
  • The sensation of always feeling cold
  • Increased vulnerability to disease, and longer recovery times
  • Longer recovery times after injuries
  • Higher risk of complication following surgery
  • Depression
  • Lack of sex drive and impotence

In some other cases, it can cause:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Pale and/or brittle skin that cuts and bruises easily
  • Sunken face
  • Dry hair that eventually falls out
In the worst cases, malnutrition can be deadly in as few as 12 weeks.

One of the most widespread problems resulting from malnutrition is its impact on child development. Children suffering from malnutrition can be irritable or temperamental, and their social and educational growth may be stunted. This can result in major cognitive issues later in life.

Even when corrective action is taken, the experience of having suffered from a period of malnutrition can have lasting, long-term effects on both mental health and bodily functions. One of the primary long-term effects is the problem with the gastric system, which may persist over the lifetime of the patient.

Adults who have suffered from malnutrition are more likely to experience a full recovery with proper treatment.


Malnutrition can result from a variety of circumstances:

1) Insufficient consumption of food

This might be caused by an array of illnesses, including dysphagia (which makes it difficult or impossible to swallow). Also, faulty dentures—which make chewing difficult—can contribute to this.

2) Mental health problems

Anorexia, bulimia, dementia, depression, and schizophrenia can lead to malnutrition.

3) Lack of mobility

Some people are unable to leave their homes to purchase food, which makes meals difficult to prepare. This is a major problem among the elderly, who often live alone. Also, many of these people have insufficient funds to spend on food, lack access to proper cooking appliances, or are otherwise incapable of preparing food (even if they have it).

4) Digestive illnesses and abdominal conditions

Some medical problems can cause malnutrition even when a proper diet is followed. People with Crohn’s disease or different types of colitis might need to have a part of their small intestine removed in order to facilitate the absorption of nutrients.

Likewise, celiac disease is a condition that results in an allergy to gluten (which is present in all forms of bread). It may result in damage to the coating of the bowels, which can, in turn, result in an inability to properly process food.

Persistent vomiting, diarrhea, or a combination of the two can also result in malnutrition, and essential nutrients are expelled from the body before they can be absorbed.

5) Alcoholism

Alcohol addiction can damage the gastric system, liver, kidney, and pancreas—each of which is an essential player in nutrient absorption and processing. Damage to any of these can also affect the body’s production of necessary hormones.

Additionally, alcohol is a significant source of calories. People who drink too much may not experience proper hunger, which means they will not consume enough actual food. As a result, they will be missing core vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients.

6) Lack of breastfeeding

Failure to breastfeed—particularly in the developing world—can be in rare instances a cause of malnutrition in babies and children.

When to see your doctor

If you think you might be suffering from malnutrition, you should consult professional medical services if any of the following are true:

  • You have experienced significant weight loss over the past three to six months, which cannot be attributed to changes in your behavior or an increase in exercise
  • You often feel hungry and are unable to eat food when you want it
  • You regularly skip meals to save money, or because you can’t afford to purchase food
  • You are concerned that somebody in your care, such as a child or elderly parents, may not be eating enough/the right foods.

If you are worried about an acquaintance or family associate, it’s important to encourage them to go to the doctor. Malnutrition can have serious consequences, so it’s better safe than sorry.

Your doctor can check if you are at danger of malnutrition by evaluating your height and weight, consulting with you about any health issues you may be experiencing, and in some cases, by drawing blood to analyze your nutrient intake on a microscopic level.

If your doctor determines that you may be suffering from, or at risk for, malnutrition, there are interventions that can be taken. For many people, it’s as simple as visiting a licensed dietitian, who will talk to you about your eating habits and help to make sure you’re consuming the right amounts of the right foods.

Who is in danger of malnutrition?

Anybody can suffer from it, but it’s most prevent in the following populations:

  • Individuals with ongoing health problems that affect their hunger and/or weight, and which cause problems with nutrient absorption (such as Crohn’s disease)
  • Individuals who have trouble swallowing
  • Individuals who live in very rural areas
  • Individuals who lack access to transportation
  • Individuals with low levels of income

Elderly people are particularly at risk, but malnutrition should not be considered an unavoidable consequence of old age. If you or someone you know is suffering from this problem, seek medical help immediately. Treatments are available!


LOW RISK: Treatment usually consists of meeting with a dietician and making slight changes to eating habits.

MEDIUM RISK: Sometimes, people suffering from malnutrition are hospitalized for a few days so that doctors can monitor their progress and suggest the proper course of home treatment.

HIGH RISK: People at risk of long-term malnutrition will require ongoing professional care- and intervention.

Regardless of this risk level, information about proper eating habits will be provided.


To prevent malnutrition, people need to consume a variety of foods from diverse sources. A particular focus should be placed on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are an excellent source of critical vitamins and minerals. A smart balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals—as well as sufficient amounts of clean drinking water—can help ensure that the body works properly for many years.