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What is Malnutrition



A malnourished person finds that their body has difficulty doing normal things such as growing and resisting disease. Physical work becomes problematic and even learning abilities can be diminished. For women, pregnancy becomes risky and they cannot be sure of producing nourishing breast milk.


Causes of Malnutrition

  1. A condition that causes a lack of appetite, such as cancer, liver disease, persistent pain or nausea.

  2. A mental health condition, such as depression or schizophrenia, which may affect your ability to look after yourself.

  3. A health condition that requires frequent hospital admissions.

  4. A health condition that disrupts your body’s ability to digest food or absorb nutrients, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

  5. Dementia – people with dementia may be unable to communicate their needs when it comes to eating.

  6. Dysphagia – a condition that makes swallowing difficult or painful.

  7. Persistent vomiting or diarrhoea.

  8. An eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa.

What are the consequences of malnutrition?

Malnutrition affects people in every country. Around 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight, while 462 million are underweight. An estimated 41 million children under the age of 5 years are overweight or obese, while some 159 million are stunted and 50 million are wasted. Adding to this burden are the 528 million or 29% of women of reproductive age around the world affected by anemia, for which approximately half would be amenable to iron supplementation.

Many families cannot afford or access enough nutritious foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, meat and milk, while foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are cheaper and more readily available, leading to a rapid rise in the number of children and adults who are overweight and obese, in poor as well as rich countries. It is quite common to find under nutrition and overweight within the same community, household or even individual – it is possible to be both overweight and micro nutrient deficient.

Symptoms of malnutrition

The most common symptom of malnutrition is weight loss. For example, those who lose up to 10% of their body weight in 3 months without dieting are considered to be malnourished. There may be other symptoms like fatigue, lack of energy, lack of strength, breathlessness, anemia, changes of skin, hair and nails etc. in adults with malnutrition. Children with malnutrition additionally show irritability, inability to concentrate, failure to grow to their expected height, stunted growth etc.

Treatment of malnutrition

For those who can eat normally, treatment of malnutrition entails providing a diet plan with extra nutrient content. The diet plan needs to be made balanced so as to allow for weight gain along with provision of vitamins and minerals. For those who cannot eat normally a feeding tube can be used to provide nutrients directly into the digestive system or nutrients available as inject able preparations could be infused directly into one of the blood vessels.

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