Signs of Malnutrition

Signs of Malnutrition

When people hear the word Malnutrition, they might think of starved children in underdeveloped countries but feeling very sorry to say that it is affecting individuals in every country but in different forms. Signs of Malnutrition is a must read for each of us, as this guide us towards a better and healthy lifestyle. So, don’t miss to read the forms and each n everything about malnutrition so that you all get a clear vision about what this malnutrition is.

Signs of Malnutrition
Signs of Malnutrition

Definition of Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a severe condition which is caused by lack of proper and adequate nutrients, because of unavailability of food (famine etc) or not consuming adequate nutrients in the diet because of any reason. It is basically the deficiency or excess in the intake of energy and/or nutrients. Read here: Detailed Guide on Anorexia Nervosa

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Various forms of Malnutrition-Signs of Malnutrition

There are different forms of malnutrition.

  • Undernutrition
  • Overnutrition
  • Micronutrients related malnutrition
  • Malnutrition due to diet-related non-communicable diseases

So, starting with the first form of malnutrition.


This type of malnutrition includes many different other problems in it that are: Stunting, wasting and underweight. Undernutrition is mostly found in developing countries. Undernutrition makes children more vulnerable to other diseases and death. Read Signs of Malnutrition table for complete details. It can lead to Rickets.


It is low height for age. Young children can’t take care of themselves, it is because of insufficient nutrients in their diet, may be due to unavailability or negligence of their caregivers or because of some economic issues, poor health of mother, frequent illness, or inappropriate feeding, children lacking calcium in their foods or because of any other reason that affects them badly in their later life.


it is the low weight for height. In this case, recent and severe weight loss occurs because of less food availability or any chronic disease such as diarrhea in which severe weight loss occurs. This should be treated as soon as possible otherwise wasting will take the breaths of the child. One of the most obvious Signs of Malnutrition.


It is the less weight of the body as compared to the standard one, less than 18.5. It is the low weight for age. An underweight child may be stunted and wasted, both. Refere to Signs of Malnutrition Table.


Overnutrition includes overweight and obesity.


Weight more than the standard or ideal one is overweightedness. Body mass index (BMI) above 24.5, for further easiness, between 25-30 is an overweight person. It is because of excessive eating, food takes more time to be digested  and absorption is not proper and good, no nutrient can perform its best in this case and person is just fulfilling his desire to eat and nothing more. There should be balance because you all know that excess of everything is bad.


Obesity is the raised BMI above 30.The range of BMI 30-40 is obese and above 40 is very obese (morbid or 3rd grade obesity) because of excessive fat accumulation in his body because of excess lipids in his diet or sedentary lifestyle. Fat keep accumulating in the adipose tissues of body and they have not enough capacity than body makes new adipose tissues and further fats start accumulating there and a person become very obese. This is the case that much energy in consumed and very less is expended. Read here about Causes of Obesity.

Micronutrients related malnutrition  

Vitamins and minerals together called as micronutrients their deficiency is called as micronutrients malabsorption. There are many micronutrients but globally people are facing three micronutrients severe malnutrition which are, Vitamin A (eyesight problems etc), Iodine (goiter, thyroid problems etc) and iron (anemia) and these are the major threats health and development in children, pregnant and lactating mothers and other people also. Read here about Iron Rich Foods.

Malnutrition due to diet-related, non-communicable diseases  

These are due to different diseases like CVD (cardiovascular diseases), cancer, diabetes, and other diseases related to high blood pressures and disabilities. Poor nutrition and unhealthy foods are also those things which cause these diseases. Read Signs of Malnutrition table and check all signs.

Risk groups

Mostly underdeveloped countries are at risk of malnutrition and areas which have a low socio-economic status. These people have nothing to eat and they don’t have not much sources to fulfill their one time hunger but it’s the sad reality that malnutrition is affecting individuals of every state .So, one should  have to consume enough to fulfill his daily body requirements and if he has much available than he should control his desire, to take a moderate ideal diet.

According to the new recent research and surveys of UNICEF(United Nations Children’s fund programme) 2017, about 51 million of children  under 5 years of age are severely wasting, out of which 16 million are severely wasted and 38 million (about 5.6 percent) of children were overweight as childhood obesity is a very bad case which is very difficult to overcome and they remain obese their whole life and this causes very bad damages to their health and by new estimation 2017,about 22.2 percent, about one children in every four under 5 years of age is stunted. Pregnant and lactating mothers, as well as young children, are mostly effected by micronutrient deficiencies while others were affected by malnutrition because of their mother’s poor nutrition. Signs of Malnutrition table shows complete details.


Mental health problems like dementia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and schizophrenia

Less intake of food because of no food or eating disorders or fear of eating more and dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)

Social and mobility problems like they don’t know how to cook or haven’t enough money to bought some food from market or people who are isolated from others and living alone.

Alcoholism is also a cause of malnutrition because many people make a bad habit of drinking alcohol very often that leads them towards malnutrition because drinking alcohol doesn’t allow nutrients to absorb properly and leads to gastritis and also cause difficulties in food digestion and in most cases drinkers do not eat proper food because they are full by useless calories of alcohol.

Lack of breast feeding is also a major cause of malnutrition and it may be due to death of the mother or because of no milk due to mother’s insufficient nutrition because there is no alternate or substitute of mother milk till now. Mother milk has its own superiorities which any best formula milk can’t even challenge.

Digestive system disorders and stomach bad conditions also lead towards malnutrition because small intestine is the body part where most of the nutrients are absorbed and when it is unfit, all the body is in the state of unrest.

Aging is also a cause of malnutrition because old aged people don’t each much and don’t fulfill their body requirements, also the poor oral health and weak teeth and gums causes swelling and elder people avoid eating so that their weak gums don’t give them pain and other physiological changes that are negatively impacting on them.

Risk factors

  • Eating disorders
  • Serious head injury
  • Organ failure
  • Serious infection
  • Dental health problems
  •  Long Hospitalization
  • Aging along with dementia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad economical condition


Stunting, wasting and extreme obesity will help diagnose it. Clinical history, signs and symptoms are the major determinants of malnutrition. Diagnostic tests and imaging studies also diagnose it. BMI (body mass index) and MUST (malnutrition universal screening tool) are the best to diagnose malnutrition.

BMI: Normal healthy BMI is 18-24.5 and less than 18.5 are underweight.BMI value less than 18 ,indicates that the person is malnourished.BMI is calculated as your weight( in kg) over height( in m2) and then results are compared with the normal BMI values.BMI less than 16 indicates severe case of malnutrition.

MUST: Malnutrition universal screening tool is the test to diagnose malnutrition especially in adults not in children.

Clinical signs and symptoms

  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Brittle hairs
  • Prone to infections
  • Delayed or prolonged healing
  • Weakness
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Body appears like wasting
  • Lack of energy
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Long term constipation
  • Depression
  • Severe weight loss
  • Swollen and bleeding gums, tooth decay
  • Fragile bones, osteoporosis and muscle loss
  • Decrease in the function of body organs  like heart problem,reduced liver function, less lung capacity, intestinal problems, kidney problems, stomach uncomfortness.
  • Lack of appetite
  • Anxiety, decreased social responsiveness
  • Several other problems associated with this like anemia, goiter, night blindness, dwarfism etc
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irregular menstruation or stopped completely
  • Loss of fat and muscle mass
  • Cold feeling always
  • Less sex drive and infertility
  • Inflexible skin
  • Difficulties in breathing

Prevention of malnutrition

The only way to prevent malnutrition is to eat a healthy and ideal diet so that you may fulfill your RDA that is recommended daily allowances and remain free from all forms of malnutrition

Eat a well balanced diet, neither too much nor too little

Eat a lot of vegetables daily

Eat fruits but before 20 minutes of your meal so that they can be easily digested and don’t get stuck with other foods in stomach as some fruits are absorbed very early

Regular intake of milk and dairy products and also take sufficient vitamin D as avoid taking iron with calcium foods.

Include rice, pasta bread and other starchy foods in your diet

Eat fish, beans, eggs, meat and other sources of proteins as well.

Avoid eating fruits with high sugar content more than their normal requirement

Avoid eating junk foods and drinks

Quit alcoholism

Make a healthy lifestyle

Regular exercise

Make a habit of eating salads with your every meal

Start drinking 8 glass of water daily

Treatment of malnutrition

It depends upon the cause of malnutrition and and what type of malnutrition a person has and how much severe it is. Is the patient is in the state, that he can be treated or not. You must know Signs of Malnutrition details.

Dietary changes are the major treatment of malnutrition. In case of Undernutrition, healthy diet treatment is given while in case of Overnutrition, a balanced diet treatment is done.

There should be a good and proper intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fats as well as other micronutrients that are vitamins and minerals, and good amount of fluids specially water.

But in severe cases when a patient can’t even eat something that food is directly provided to patient’s stomach by the help of a feeding tube. I want to mention here that treatment totally depends upon the severity of malnutrition.

Immediate catch-up growth treatments

F-75 and F-100 are the diets for malnourished patients.

Drip is injected to the patient for immediate fluid and nutrition balance

Regular monitoring of the patient help ensure an appropriate intake of calories and nutrients. Always remember, malnourished children are at greater risk of death so they must need a lot of care and special attention. Malnutrition can be treated when the case is not so much severe and, but extremely severe case is at risk of death. So, it malnutrition treatment should be done as soon as possible otherwise severity will be fatal. Acute malnutrition is less than 40 days and above 40 days, malnutrition is called as severe malnutrition case.

Read Here: How to Gain Weight Naturally

Protein energy malnutrition (PEM)

This is another and major type of malnutrition.

‘’A condition resulting from inadequate protein in diet and a range of pathological conditions characterized by marasmus and kwashiorkor’’

Here is the Comparison between Marasmus vs Kwashiorkor.

Marasmus Kwashiokor
Severe deficiency of protein and calories together is called as marasmus Severe deficiency of protein in diet is called as Kwashiokor.
Marasmus is a Greek wordKwashiokor is an African word
It occurs in infants under 1 year of age It occurs in children between 6 months to 3 years of age.
Moon faceMonkey face
Brittle hairSparse hair
No subcutaneous fatSubcutaneous fat is preserved
No edema is presentEdema is present
Alert and irritableLethargic
Ribs become very prominentRibs are not so much prominent, the prominent feature is the swollen abdomen.
Severe muscle wastingMuscle wasting is mild
No fatty liverEnlarged fatty liver
Also known as protein-calorie malnutrition Also called as protein malnutrition or malignant malnutrition.

Final words

So, I have written completely about malnutrition and also added Signs of Malnutrition. Now, everyone should be cleared, each and every thing about malnutrition and hopefully you all will try to eliminate this from the whole world. So, if there is a child with such signs and symptoms than he should given treatment as soon as possible before it’s too late and elder people should take care of their diets so that they might not be malnourished and must take a balanced diet so that one may not become underweight and overweight.

About the Author:

My name is Dilawaiz Zehra. I am doing BS in Nutrition and Dietetics. I am pretty much interested to know about nutrition in every food and drink. Because we are, what we consume. At Nutrition Lab, we always try to bring the Best for our readers.

 “From the bitterness of disease, man learn the sweetness of health”.   

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  1. Malnutrition is a very very serious issue and almost effetcing every part of the world…we must know about it and should take the measures to prevent make this world full of healthy and energetic people..well written…one of the best worth reading article

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