Malnutrition is defined as an inadequate or excessive nutritional intake, an unbalanced intake of vital nutrients, or poor absorption of nutrients. There is no universally accepted definition of “malnutrition.”
A well-balanced diet should include enough calories, protein, and vitamins to keep you healthy; anything contrary can lead to malnutrition.
Malnutrition, also known as “poor nutrition,” can result from either undernutrition or overnutrition.
Undernutrition, overweight, and obesity, as well as diet-related noncommunicable diseases, create the double burden of malnutrition.
Types of malnutrition
Unintentional weight loss, albeit not always obvious, is the principal symptom of undernutrition.
The majority of malnourished individuals will notice weight loss; however, it is possible to be at a healthy weight or even overweight and still be malnourished.
Causes of undernutrition
- Physical limitation or other impairment that makes moving around, cooking, or shopping for food difficult
- Social isolation and living alone.
- Little understanding of nutrition.
- Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
- Reliance on drugs or alcohol.
- Poverty or poor income.
- Dementia, which can make a person forget to take care of themselves and to eat.
4 broad forms of Undernutrition
Low weight-for-height is referred to as “wasting.”
It usually reflects sudden and substantial weight loss, although it can also linger for an extended period of time.
It typically happens when a person hasn’t eaten enough food, both in terms of quantity and quality, or when they have had frequent or prolonged sicknesses.
If left untreated, wasting in children is linked to a greater risk of mortality.
Low height-for-age is termed as “stunting.”
It is the outcome of chronic or repeated undernutrition, which is typically linked to poverty, poor maternal health and nutrition, frequent sickness, and/or inadequate feeding and care in early life.
Children who stunt are unable to develop to their full physical and intellectual potential.
Low weight-for-age is the definition of underweight.
An underweight person may be wasted, stunted, or both.
4. Micronutrient deficiencies
These are characterized by the lack of vitamins and minerals that are required for biological functions such as the production of enzymes, hormones, and other substances required for growth and development.
Symptoms of undernutrition
- Body mass index (BMI) is less than 18.5; however, a person with a BMI under 20 may still be at risk.
- Belts, clothing, and jewellery all seem to get more loose over time.
- Losing 5 to 10% of your body weight within 3 to 6 months.
Other symptoms of undernutrition
- Reduced appetite.
- Lack of craving for food and drink.
- Constant fatigue.
- Weakening of the body.
- Frequent illness and slow recovery.
- Wounds take a long time to heal.
- Having trouble concentrating.
- Continuously feeling cold.
- Depression or low mood.
Symptoms of undernutrition in children
- Having less energy than other kids and becoming tired very easily.
- Lacks the expected rate of growth or weight gain (faltering growth).
- Behavioural changes, such as becoming slow, anxious, or irritable.
- Administration of vitamin and mineral supplements, and treatment for any underlying medical issues causing malnutrition.
- Dietary adjustments, such as consuming meals high in energy and nutrients, are encouraged.
- If the other treatments are insufficient on their own, high-energy and protein dietary supplements may be vital.
- Tube feeding (enteral feeding): in certain cases, hospital admission may be required.
Nutritional tips to reverse undernutrition
- Add extra cheese or flavored soft cheese to the foods you can; examples are vegetables, mashed potatoes, pasta dishes, pizza, etc.
- Add sugar, jam, or honey to the foods you can; examples are porridge or cereal, puddings, milkshakes, smoothies, etc.
- Add cream, chocolate spread, peanut butter, or nuts to the foods you can; examples are soups, sauces, fruit, etc.
- Add extra butter to the foods you can; examples are biscuits or crackers, sandwiches or toast, etc.
13 examples of high-calorie, and high-protein snacks:
The following food ideas can help reverse the effects of undernutrition (malnutrition).
- Chocolate, biscuits, pastries, and cakes
- Crisps with dip
- Crackers or oatcakes with cheese, pate, hummus, or avocado
- Fruit with chocolate spread or peanut butter
- Milk jelly, chocolate pots, and mousses
- Crumpets, scones, and pancakes with butter and jam
- Mini pork pies, sausage rolls, scotch eggs, and spring rolls
- Custard, trifle, and rice pudding pots
- Dried fruit
- Thick and creamy yoghurts
- Soya yoghurts or desserts
- Nuts and seeds
- Cereal bar and flapjacks
The overconsumption of nutrients and food to the point that it negatively impacts health is referred to as “overnutrition.”
8 causes of overnutrition
- Depression or anxiety.
- Little choices for nutritious food.
- Sedentary way of life.
- Persistent stress.
- Binge eating syndrome.
- Excessive usage of dietary supplements over time.
- Medical condition, such as hypothyroidism, that causes your metabolism to slow down.
- Hormonal imbalance that disrupts your hunger and fullness signals.
Symptoms of overnutrition
- Insulin resistance.
- High blood pressure.
- Heart disease.
Treatment for overnutrition or obesity usually involves:
- diet or lifestyle changes
- weight loss via diet and exercise plans, medications, or medical procedures
- treating an underlying condition, such as a mental health disorder or thyroid disease
The most effective method of preventing malnutrition is to have a well-balanced diet rich in nutritious whole foods.
You are less likely to overeat if you have enough of all the nutrients your body requires. Even with a pretty normal diet, some micronutrient shortages are frequent.
One technique to determine if you would benefit from taking micronutrient supplements is a blood test.
(References: WHO, NHS, Cleveland Clinic, NIH)