We explain what malnutrition is, what its symptoms, causes and consequences are. In addition, its characteristics, grades and treatment.

When talking about the problem of hunger, what is important are the consequences of hunger , that is, malnutrition. However, hunger is not the only cause of malnutrition, since it can occur in people who have sufficient economic resources to access food.

Individual causes of malnutrition

Individual causes of malnutrition

Malnutrition can arise when a person does not consume enough nutrients in their meals, or when they cannot absorb them. The causes can be:

  • Anorexia nervosa.  Anorexia is an eating disorder.
  • Bulimia .  The vomiting caused by it prevents the body from absorbing the necessary nutrients.
  • Dysphagia It is the difficulty to swallow.
  • Depression and other mental illnesses. Depression can cause a significant decrease in appetite.
  • Cancer and other chronic infections. Chronic diseases and the medications used to treat them can cause loss of appetite and digestion difficulties. Since the elderly are the most frequent sufferers of chronic diseases, they are a risk group.
  • Addictions Alcohol or drug abuse can lead to skipping meals due to the effects of the addictive substance or due to lack of financial resources.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases. They prevent the correct absorption or assimilation of one or more nutrients.
  • Vomiting Although a person consumes enough nutrients, if he suffers from vomiting due to other pathologies, the body does not absorb the nutrients from food. Diseases that can cause vomiting are dengue fever, typhoid fever, flu, and others.
  • Diarrhea. Acute diarrhea, which lasts a few days, cannot cause malnutrition. On the contrary, chronic diarrhea, which lasts more than four weeks, causes the loss of essential minerals for survival: chloride, potassium and sodium.
  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus. They prevent the normal absorption of glucose.
  • Parasitosis The parasite consumes most of the nutrients in food.

Social causes of malnutrition

Malnutrition may not be caused by factors that affect a single person, but rather factors that affect an entire population . For example:

  • Famine.  It occurs when in a wide geographical area there is not enough food to distribute in the population.
  • Poverty . Even in areas where there are sufficient food resources, certain groups or individuals may not have the financial resources to access them.

Difference between malnutrition and malnutrition

Difference between malnutrition and malnutrition

Malnutrition is a broader category than malnutrition , which also includes a nutrient deficiency, such as a lack of vitamins or minerals. These forms of malnutrition affect the body, for example causing anemia (lack of iron) or affecting the formation and strength of bones (lack of calcium or vitamin D). But its effects are milder and it is simply treated with dietary supplements or a change in diet.

Malnutrition is the most severe form of malnutrition . It implies a general deficit of nutrients and consumption of muscle tissue , which the body uses as food in the absence of other sources.

Symptoms of malnutrition

Symptoms of malnutrition

  • Adults:

    • Considerable weight loss
    • Decreased body mass (body mass index below 17)
    • Muscular weakness
    • General tiredness
    • Greater vulnerability to contagious diseases
    • Increased irritability

  • Kids:

    • Delayed growth (weight and height)
    • Irritability

  • Babies:

    • Periods of crying and inactivity alternate
    • Learning problems
    • Scattered attention
    • Dryness and peeling of the skin
    • Swollen belly

Child malnutrition

In children, malnutrition has more serious effects than in adults, since it can affect the body permanently, by preventing the proper development of the body and the intellect . Chronic malnutrition in children causes mental retardation.

Two diseases are caused in children exclusively by malnutrition:

  • Marasmus. Disease caused in newborns when their diet is insufficient in its energy content.
  • Kwashiorkor. Disease that appears after 18 months of age, produced by an insufficient diet, mainly in protein .

Degrees of malnutrition

Degrees of malnutrition

  • Grade 1. Body weight between 76 and 90% of that expected for the child's age and height. The speed of growth and psychomotor development is normal or slightly delayed.
  • Grade 2.  Body weight between 61 and 75% of that expected for the age. Growth speed and psychomotor development are moderately or severely retarded.
  • Grade 3.  Body weight less than 60% of what is expected for the age. The growth rate and psychomotor development stop. Imminent danger of death.

Types of malnutrition

  • Primary. It is due to insufficient food intake, or the lack of a specific type of food (for example protein, in cases of kwashiorkor)
  • Secondary. Despite a correct and sufficient intake of food, the body cannot absorb or metabolize it. It is due to diseases such as chronic diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, gluten intolerance, Crohn's disease, among others.

Consequences of malnutrition

Consequences of malnutrition

Depending on the person and the degree of malnutrition, the consequences of it may vary. Among them are:

  • Loss of weight and muscle mass
  • Exhaustion
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Digestion is less effective
  • Internal muscles, organs and their functions are affected. The first organs to be affected are the liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
  • In severe cases, the respiratory , nervous, and immune systems are affected .
  • In cases of child malnutrition, physical and mental development can be delayed.

Prevention of malnutrition

  • Diagnose and treat pathologies that can cause malnutrition.
  • Maintain a balanced nutrition, which includes a sufficient variety of nutrients.
  • Monitor the feeding of children and the elderly, controlling the amount and variety of nutrients.
  • Make regular medical check-ups, especially children, the elderly and pregnant women.
  • Give breast milk to children for at least the first year of life .

Treatment for malnutrition

Treatment for malnutrition

  • When it comes to grade 1 malnutrition, treatment is outpatient and requires only constant medical attention
  • At the beginning liquid meals to facilitate digestion in a gastrointestinal system probably damaged by malnutrition.
  • Foods high in carbohydrates , proteins and trace elements.
  • When the body is stronger, administer food and vitamin supplements.
  • Application of moisturizing creams for external use.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


MA student of the TransAtlantic Masters program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Political Science with a focus on European Studies. Expressed ideas are open to revision. He not only covers Technical articles but also has skills in the fields of SEO, graphics, web development and coding. .

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