Malnutrition: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment




Malnutrition is mainly a lack of nutrition. It is caused by not having enough to eat and not eating enough of proper food.

Moreover, it is a major concern for today’s population.
It leads to serious health issues that include stunted growth, eye problems, diabetes, and heart disease.
In today’s date, malnutrition affects billions of people worldwide.

Some populations have a high risk of developing malnutrition. It depends on the environment, lifestyle, and resources.
Here we will discuss the types, symptoms, and causes of malnutrition and will provide information about prevention and treatment.

What is Malnutrition?

It is a condition that results from a nutrient deficiency or overconsumption. There are two types of malnutrition that is undernutrition and overnutrition.

i) Undernutrition: It results from proteins, calories, and macronutrient deficient food. It leads to low weight-for-height, height-for-age, and weight-for-age. Undernourished people have a deficiency in vitamins and minerals, mainly iron, zinc, vitamin A and iodine.

ii) Overnutrition: It results due to the overconsumption of certain nutrients such as proteins, calories.
Undoubtedly it is possible to be overweight from excessive calorie intake but you can’t get enough vitamins and minerals at the same time.



The symptoms of malnutrition depend on the type. Recognizing the effects of malnutrition can help people and healthcare providers identify and treat the issues.

i) Under-nutrition:-

It usually results due to not getting enough nutrients in your diet.

This can cause:

1. loss in weight.
2. fat loss
3. hollow cheeks
4. sunken eyes
5. swollen stomach
6. fatigue
7. irritability
8. depression and anxiety


It is a protein deficiency that causes fluid retention and a protruding abdomen.
Under-nutrition can also result in micronutrient deficiencies.

Some of the most common deficiencies and their symptoms include:

1. Vitamin A: Dry eyes, night blindness
2. Zinc: appetite loss, stunted growth, hair loss
3. Iron: impaired brain function, stomach problems
4. Iodine: goiters
Since undernutrition leads to various health issues so it can increase your risk of death. In fact, it is found that 45% of all child deaths are due to undernutrition.


Obesity and overweight are the main signs of over-nutrition. Research shows that people who are overweight are more prone to deficiency of vitamins and minerals in blood levels.
Overweight is due to overconsumption of fast and, processed food. That is high in calories and fats but low in other nutrients.

Assessing Malnutrition

Symptoms of malnutrition are assessed by the healthcare providers when they screen for the condition.
Tools that are used to identify, malnutrition include weight loss and BMI(Body Mass Index) charts, blood tests and some physical exams.

Your doctor may order you for other additional tests. It will identify micronutrient deficiencies if you are under-nutrition.
Moreover, you should also discuss your dietary habits with your doctor. He will suggest to you what to include in your diet.

Long Term Effects

Malnutrition can lead to the development of many diseases and chronic health issues.

For undernutrition:

Long term effects of under-nutrition include a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

The research found that 21% of adolescents with stunted growth in Brazil, had high blood pressure and other problems.
Childhood undernutrition causes changes in metabolism that may lead to developing chronic diseases later.

For overnutrition:

Overnutrition also leads to certain health problems. Specifically overweight children have a greater risk of heart attacks and type 2 diabetes.
Since the long term effects of malnutrition can increase your risk of certain diseases, preventing and treating malnutrition can help the risk of chronic health conditions.


Causes of Malnutrition

It is a worldwide issue that can result from environmental, economic and medical conditions.
The WHO estimates that over 460 million adults and 150 million children are undernourished while more than two billion adults and children are overweight.

Common causes of malnutrition include:

1. A lack of access to sufficient and affordable food
2. Digestive issues with nutrient absorption
3. Excessive alcohol consumption
4. Mental health disorders
5. Inability to obtain and prepare foods

Populations at Risk

Malnutrition affects people all over but some populations are at higher risk.

Populations that are prone to malnutrition include:

1. People living in developing countries that have limited access to food.
2. Individuals with increased nutrient needs and especially children and pregnant women.
3. People living in poverty.
4. Older adults living alone or having disabilities.
5. People with issues that affect nutrient absorption.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing and treating malnutrition involves addressing the underlying causes.

1. Government agencies, organizations, and schools can play a vital role in preventing malnutrition.
2. Include zinc, iron and iodine pills with proper diet.
3. Eat a properly balanced diet with a variety of foods that include carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.
4. Treating malnutrition often involves more individualized approaches.

A healthcare provider can assess the signs, and symptoms of undernutrition and recommend interventions. It can be taking help from a dietitian to develop a feeding schedule that may include supplements.



The Bottom Line of Malnutrition

Malnutrition refers to overnutrition and undernutrition. People who are undernourished may experience weight loss, fatigue, and mood changes or develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Overnutrition can lead to overweight, obesity and inadequate micronutrient intakes and deficiencies.
You should talk to a doctor if you believe you are malnourished.


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