Malnutrition is the condition in which individuals are unable to get enough nutrition from the food they eat. It usually results from consuming a diet in which nutrients are either not much or more than the required amounts that causes health problems. The two common terms that refers to malnutrition are;

  • Under nutrition- include stunting, underweight, micronutrients deficiencies, anaemias
  • Overweight, obesity resulting in metabolic disorders ( heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension etc).

Malnutrition is a common problem worldwide. According to WHO 1.9 billion people worldwide are overweight and 462 million are underweight. 29% of women of reproductive age are suffering from micronutrient deficiency anaemias. 41 million children under the age of 5 are overweight, whereas 159 million are stunted ( low height fir age)/and 50 million are wasted ( low weight for height).


Undernutrition is the insufficient intake of energy and nutrients in order to meet body needs to maintain good health. It is the broad term which covers both protein energy malnutrition and micronutrients deficiencies. Sometimes the word malnutrition is used as a synonym of undernutrition. The most vulnerable group that are susceptible to undernutrition are older adults, women of childbearing age, and children under the age the 5.

Common signs and symptoms of undernutrition are

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Longer healing time for wounds
  • Weight loss and loss of muscle, body fats and body tissues
  • Shivering or feeling cold
  • Hair loss
  • Lack of concentration and difficulties in carrying out daily activities
  • Body pain
  • Breathlessness in extreme cases
  • Delayed growth in children, lack of growth both physically and intellectually.

Causes of undernutrition

There are various reason which results in undernutrition ,some of them are environmental while other may occur as a results of medical or health problems. This includes

  • Socio-economic problems which results in inability to buy foods and sometimes also results in inappropriate selection of foods.
  • Poor maternal health and anaemia results in low birth weight infants.
  • Little or no breastfeeding is the major cause of undernutrition specially in developing countries which lead to stunted growth.
  • Isolation and inability to prepare and shop for meals is the primary cause of malnutrition amongst elderly in developed countries.
  • Low intake as a result of mental or physical problems such as anorexia, schizophrenia, bulimia and dementia.
  • Digestive disorders such as ulcers, crohn’s diseases, frequent onset of diarrhoea and vomiting results in poor absorption of nutrients.

Dietary management for the prevention of undernutrition

The treatment of malnutrition depends upon finding the underlying cause of malnourishment and then treating it accordingly. However both medical and nutrition therapy is extremely important for the prevention as well as treatment of malnutrition. There are different strategies for different age groups and health conditions, some of which are discussed below;

malnutrition in children

Malnutrition is the most common problem in infants and toddlers under the age of five. For the prevention malnutrition in young children it is always essential to follow some of the important points . Some of them are;

  • Exclusive breast feeding to six months of age. Gradual introduction to solid foods along with breast feeding till two years of age.
  • Regular height and weight check ups with health practitioners to rule out any signs of stunting and wasting.
  • Frequent small meals and gradual introduction of protein rich foods after six months of age.
  • Treatment of any underlying health problems and regular health checkups by health practitioners.

Malnutrition in pregnancy and lactation

Maternal malnutrition is the major reason for miscarriages and growth retardation in children . Caloric and nutrients supplementation is extremely important to reduce miscarriages and incidence of low birth weight. Below are some key points to keep in mind if your are trying to conceive, pregnant or lactating;

  • Regular folic acid supplementation is required in first trimester to prevent neural tube defects.
  • Iron supplementation after first trimester throughout pregnancy to prevent iron deficiency anaemia.
  • Regular intake of milk and dairy products throughout pregnancy to prevent osteoporosis in later life.
  • Regular checkups with doctors and health practitioners.

Malnutrition in elderly

Malnutrition is very common in old age which contributes to decline in health, reduced physical activities , weight loss and mortality. Some of the factors which helps to prevent malnutrition and increase the quality of living in later life are;

  • Providing a healthy and friendly environment at meal times.
  • Frequent small meals in order to prevent indigestion.
  • High energy foods and drinks to undernourished elderly including egg nog, fish, fruits and vegetables.

Overweight and obesity

One of the most common and widely discussed form of malnutrition is overweight and obesity. The root cause of overweight and obesity is the consumption of high energy foods and lack of physical activities. Eating a healthy diet with regular exercise is important to maintain a normal weight and to prevent from diseases which occurs as a result of excess weight gain.

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