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What Are The Common Causes Of Malnutrition?

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Malnutrition is a big problem that often goes unnoticed and untreated. There are many reasons why someone might become malnourished. It can happen in places like hospitals as well as at home. Malnutrition means your body has too little, too much, or the wrong mix of nutrients.

This can harm your body’s makeup, how it works, and your health in general. Malnutrition usually refers to not getting enough nutrients, but it can also mean getting too much.

Key Takeaways

  • Malnutrition is a common problem that can result from a variety of factors, including both undernutrition and overnutrition.
  • Malnutrition is defined as a deficiency, excess or imbalance of nutrients that can adversely affect body composition, function and clinical outcomes.
  • Malnutrition is a leading cause and consequence of disease, and can occur in both institutional and community settings.
  • Addressing the root causes of malnutrition, such as dietary deficiencies, chronic diseases, and social determinants, is critical for prevention and treatment.
  • Proper screening, assessment and evidence-based interventions are essential for managing malnutrition and its associated health risks.

Introduction to Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a many-sided problem that can affect anyone, regardless of age. It refers to a lack, too much, or an unbalanced amount of nutrients. This can harm the body’s shape, how it works, and even health. You might hear malnutrition talking about not getting enough food, but it also covers eating too much.

Definition of Malnutrition

Malnutrition shows up as not getting the right nutrients, too many, or an imbalance. It can make someone too skinny, not grow as they should, or lack important nutrients. This often brings health problems. Such as getting sick easily or having trouble thinking.

Types of Malnutrition

Malnutrition comes in many types. It can be not getting enough or too much food, leading to different issues. Why someone faces malnutrition can vary. It might be because they don’t have access to good food. Or because of health conditions or how much money they have.

Prevalence of Malnutrition

This issue is a big deal around the world, impacting all ages and places. The World Health Organization tells us 149 million children under 5 are not growing like they should be. Yet, 45 million are too small for their size, and 38.9 million are too big. Places with less money often see both not eating enough and eating too much at the same time. This is called the double burden of malnutrition.

Health Conditions Linked to Malnutrition

Health Conditions Linked to Malnutrition

Malnutrition links to many health problems like chronic disease and mental health issues. It’s also connected to digestive disorders and even dementia. Understanding this link is important for prevention and treatment.

Chronic Diseases

Chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes often link with malnutrition. These diseases can affect what nutrition a person gets. For instance, cancer can cause weight loss and diabetes may increase nutrient needs.

Mental Health Conditions

Depression and anxiety can lead to malnutrition. Those with these issues might not want to eat, find it hard to prepare food, or lack the motivation for a healthy diet. Then, malnutrition makes mental health problems worse and affects well-being.

Digestive Disorders

Issues like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease can affect how well the body absorbs nutrients. They cause problems like diarrhea and malabsorption. This stops the body from getting the full benefit of the food eaten.

Dementia and Eating Disorders

Dementia and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia can lead to malnutrition. Dementia can make it hard for someone to remember to eat healthily. Eating disorders often result in not getting enough nutrients.

Effects of Medications on Nutritional Status


Some medicines can lead to malnutrition. They might make us not want to eat or stop our bodies from taking in food well. This lowers how much food we eat and stops our bodies from getting all the important vitamins and minerals. It can cause undernutrition and malnutrition.

Side Effects Affecting Appetite and Absorption

Medicines for long-term illnesses, mental problems, and gut issues can affect what we eat and how well we absorb food. For instance, some can make us feel like throwing up, make food taste weird, or simply not hungry. Others affect the way our stomach makes acid or our gut moves, making it hard to absorb nutrients.

Older adults are more at risk. They usually take more medicines and their bodies might not absorb food like before. It’s important to look at the side effects of these medicines. Making sure they eat enough vitamins and minerals can prevent malnutrition.

Physical and Social Risk Factors


Some health conditions and your daily pills aren’t the only things that could lead to malnutrition. Factors like where you live or who lives with you can also play a big part. They especially affect children under 5 and older adults.

Dental Problems

Having problems with your teeth or gums can stop you from eating certain foods. This issue, often faced by older adults, leads to unintentional weight loss and malnutrition.

Physical Disabilities

Some people face difficulties moving or using their hands. For them, buying, making, and eating nutritious food is tough. This can lead to malnutrition in children with disabilities and older adults.

Social Isolation

Being alone or having very few people around can make you sad or lonely. This often leads to a lack of interest in food. Without support, eating healthy meals becomes rare, leading to malnutrition.

Poverty and Food Insecurity

Not having enough money and food is a big problem. It’s a major cause of malnutrition in places where people are very poor. This problem is especially serious in areas where many children are underfed and don’t grow well.

Malnutrition in Children

Malnutrition in children is a big worry. It can harm their health and growth for a long time. Kids dealing with ongoing health issues, like long-term illnesses or disabilities, have a higher chance of becoming malnourished. Such conditions can lower a child’s hunger, affect the way their body absorbs nutrients, and their overall diet.

This may cause them not to grow as they should, lead to a shortage of important nutrients, and bring other health problems.

Also Read: Granny Smith Apple Nutrition Facts & Benefits

Eating Disorders and Psychological Factors

Issues like eating disorders can play a role in child malnutrition. Sometimes, conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder can make kids eat less or not well. This can lead to a drop in their weight and growth and cause other serious health troubles.

Spotting and treating these mental health problems early is key. It can help avoid the long-lasting effects of malnutrition.

Neglect and Abuse

In some heartbreaking instances, children might face malnutrition due to neglect or abuse. If a child is neglected, they may lack the food, care, and support they need to grow healthily. Abuse, too, can prevent a child from getting enough to eat, which can bring about malnutrition.

Dealing with the neglect and abuse issues is vital for the health and nutrition of these at-risk kids.


Q: What are the common causes of malnutrition?

A: Malnutrition can be caused by various factors such as lack of access to food, poor dietary choices, underlying health conditions, and inadequate absorption of nutrients.

Q: How does malnutrition affect children under 5?

A: Malnutrition in children under 5 can lead to stunted growth, cognitive impairment, weakened immune system, and in severe cases, even death.

Q: What are the signs of malnutrition in infants and young children?

A: Signs of malnutrition in infants and young children include visible ribs or bones, excessive fatigue, slow growth rate, and frequent infections.

Q: How can malnutrition be prevented in children?

A: Preventing child malnutrition involves ensuring access to nutritious foods, promoting breastfeeding, providing micronutrient supplements, and educating caregivers on proper nutrition.

Q: What is the risk of malnutrition in older adults?

A: Older adults are at risk of malnutrition due to factors such as reduced appetite, chronic health conditions, medication side effects, and social isolation.

Q: How is severe acute malnutrition treated in children?

A: Severe acute malnutrition in children is treated with therapeutic foods, nutritional rehabilitation, medical support, and monitoring of weight gain and nutritional status.

Q: What can contribute to malnutrition in infants and young children?

A: Factors contributing to malnutrition in infants and young children include poverty, limited access to healthcare, inadequate sanitation, food insecurity, and lack of breastfeeding support.

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