9 Characteristics Of Malnutrition, What is Malnutrition?


Malnutrition is a pathological state that occurs when the body does not receive nutrients in the amount and variety it needs to function normally.

When talking about the problem of hunger, what are 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 enough economic resources to access food.

Characteristics Of Malnutrition

1. Individual causes

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

  • Anorexia nervosa: Anorexia is an eating disorder.
  • Bulimia: Provoked vomiting 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 medication used to treat them can cause loss of appetite and difficulty in digesting. Since the elderly are the most frequently suffer from chronic diseases, they are a risk group.
  • Addictions: The abuse of alcohol or drugs can lead to skipping meals for the same effects of the addictive substance or lack of economic resources.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases: These prevent the correct absorption or assimilation of one or several nutrients.
  • Vomiting: Even if a person consumes enough nutrients, if he suffers from vomiting due to other pathologies, the body does not absorb nutrients from the food. The diseases that can cause vomiting are dengue, typhoid fever, flu and others.
  • Diarrhea: Acute diarrhea, which lasts a few days, can not cause malnutrition. Conversely, chronic diarrhea, which lasts more than four weeks, causes the loss of minerals essential for survival: chloride, potassium and sodium.
  • Diabetes mellitus type 1 or type 2: They impede the normal absorption of glucose.
  • Parasitosis: The parasite consumes most of the nutrients in the food.

9 Characteristics Of Malnutrition - What is Malnutrition?

2. Social causes

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

  • Famine: It happens when in a wide geographic zone there are not enough foods to distribute in the population.
  • Poverty: Even in areas where there are sufficient food resources, certain groups or individuals may not have the economic resources to access them.

3. Symptoms

  • Adults:
    Considerable weight loss
    Decrease in body mass (body mass index below 17)
    Muscular weakness
    Generalized fatigue
    Greater vulnerability to contagious diseases
    Increased irritability
  • Children:
    Delay in growth (weight and height)
  • Babies:
    They alternate periods of crying and inactivity
    Learning problems
    Scattered attention
    Dryness and peeling of the skin
    Bloated belly

4. Child malnutrition

In children, malnutrition has more serious effects than in adults, since it can affect the organism permanently, 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 their energy content.
Kwashiorkor: Disease that appears after 18 months of age, produced by an insufficient diet mainly in proteins.

5. Degrees of malnutrition

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

6. Types of malnutrition

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

9 Characteristics Of Malnutrition - What is Malnutrition?

7. Consequences

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

Weight loss and muscle mass
Gastrointestinal disorders
Digestion is less effective
The internal muscles, organs and their functions are affected. The first affected organs are the liver, the pancreas and the kidneys.
In severe cases, the respiratory, nervous and immune systems are affected.
In cases of child malnutrition, physical and mental development may be delayed.

8. Prevention

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

9. Treatment

When it comes to grade 1 malnutrition, the treatment is ambulatory and only requires constant medical attention
At the beginning liquid meals to facilitate digestion in a gastrointestinal system probably damaged by malnutrition.


Foods with a high content of carbohydrates, proteins and oligoelements. When the body is more strengthened, administer dietary and vitamin supplements. Application of moisturizers for external use.

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