Malnutrition - Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
If you are searching for “what is malnutrition?” Here’s what it means.
Individuals suffer from malnutrition when their diet lacks optimum nutrients or is imbalanced in nutrition to maintain a healthy body.
Read this article to find out its types, symptoms, and other essential details.
What Are the Types of Malnutrition?
Malnutrition is a serious healthcare challenge worldwide. As per the WHO, nearly 1.9 billion adults are overweight. At the same time, 462 million people are underweight. Hence proper knowledge about it is essential to prevent it at the outset. So, once you have learnt what is meant by malnutrition, know about its 2 categories -
This type of malnutrition arises from the lack of protein, micronutrients and a sizeable proportion of calories. This leads to the following health consequences -
- Underweight (low weight based on age).
- Stunting (low height as per the age).
- Wasting (low weight as per the height).
Children are more likely to suffer from undernutrition.
It results from overconsumption of nutrients such as protein, fat and other nutrients. It leads to being overweight or obese. Overweight adults often consume excessive calories, which include processed or fried foods. These food items lack nutritional value. Also, the diets of people who consume more processed food lack good fats, sodium, and other essential nutrients.
Who Is More Likely to Suffer from Malnutrition?
People who are prone to severe and acute malnutrition are as follows -
Children and Women
According to WHO, children, women and adolescents are more prone to malnutrition. The rate of malnutrition in India is alarming, and the recent healthcare crisis has increased it further. Approximately 189.2 million Indians are malnourished. The majority of them are women and children.
The Population of Developing Countries
Lower socioeconomic status leads to a lack of proper dietary intake, medical care, and hygiene, increasing malnutrition. Therefore, developing countries such as Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to suffer from malnutrition diseases. Anaemia is one such disease.
Senior Adults Living Alone
According to the BDA, The Association of UK Dietitians, adults over 65 years living alone suffer from lower body mass index. It is not common in people living with their families.
People With Underlying Diseases
Individuals who have Crohn’s disease, pulmonary fibrosis or other severe healthcare problems suffer from malnutrition. This is because it reduces the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
5 Common Causes of Malnutrition
If you are wondering “what causes malnutrition”, here are the answers -
Lack of Access to Nutritional Foods
Developing countries suffer from poverty. The lower socioeconomic status among the population makes it challenging to access affordable foods. For example, poverty is one of the reasons for malnutrition in children in developing countries. Also, improper healthcare knowledge contributes to malnutrition in infants. New-born babies receiving insufficient breastmilk suffer from undernourishment.
Health conditions like Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis reduce a body’s ability to digest food properly. Such diseases lead to the malabsorption of nutrients and cause malnourishment.
Disturbed Mental Health
Mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia prevent one’s ability to look after his/her health. This deteriorates the quality of lifestyle and affects dietary intake, leading to malnutrition.
Individuals with poor muscle strength face difficulty obtaining food from outside and preparing it. This lowers the nutrition level in their body.
Overconsumption of Alcohol
Excessive intake of alcohol damages your liver and reduces your appetite. Alcohol reduces your body’s ability to absorb nutrients properly. It causes deficiencies of zinc, thiamin, magnesium and other vital nutrients in your body. Smoking is also one of the factors that lower body weight.
Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition
The symptoms of malnutrition depend on the type of malnutrition one suffers.
Let’s take a look at each of them -
Undernutrition results in the following -
- Loss of weight
- Dry skin and hair
- Mental Illness such as depression, anxiety
- Hollow cheeks and dark, sunken eyes
- Delay in the healing of wounds
- Swollen stomach
- Difficult to concentrate
Undernutrition results in a deficiency of vital nutrients in the body. The table illustrated below specifies the lack of nutrients due to malnutrition along with the associated health issues:
Deficiency of Nutrients
Irregular body temperature, Improper functioning of the brain
Diarrhoea, Hair loss, Stunted growth, Loss of appetite
Dry eyes, Night blindness
The common symptoms of overnutrition are overweight and obesity.
Other symptoms of overnutrition include -
- Frequent urination
- Irritation in eyes
- Dry lips
- Irregular heartbeat
Prescribed Treatments for Malnutrition
Diagnosis of the symptoms is the first step. In case you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, contact your healthcare professional. Usually, they perform the following tests -
Diagnose the usual body health.
Test the protein levels in the blood.
Identify any kidney or liver diseases.
After diagnosis, doctors move ahead with treatments. Treatment of malnutrition depends on its severity. Commonly, doctors prescribe the following treatments:
Change in Diets
This includes intake of a balanced diet and health supplements. They also recommend keeping the body hydrated with nutritional drinks.
Treating Any Underlying Diseases
Treating underlying diseases are part of malnutrition treatment. For example, people suffering from dysphagia face difficulty in swallowing food. Doctors often prescribe feeding tubes for treating such issues.
Severe cases may require the hospitalisation of patients. The healthcare team will monitor and prescribe proper nutrition and medicines to cure this health problem.
Also, personal care and occupational therapy are few suggested treatments to cure malnutrition.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Malnutrition?
Avoiding the treatments for malnutrition may lead to severe long-term health problems. Take a look -
New-born babies are prone to undernutrition if not taken care of from the beginning. This increases the mortality rate among infants. Besides, malnutrition in kids leads to severe health problems:
- Stunted height
- Lack of intellectual and emotional development.
- Children will become more prone to obesity, heart diseases and diabetes in future.
Additionally, undernourishment in pregnant women also leads to poor maternal health. Common types of malnutrition diseases (undernutrition) among children and women are as follows:
In the case of overnutrition, note the following long-term effects -
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular diseases
How to Prevent Malnutrition?
One of the ideal ways to prevent malnutrition is to consume a balanced diet. Your diet must include -
- Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Starchy foods such as bread and potatoes.
- Dairy products.
- Meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses.
Additionally, an active lifestyle is also essential. You can also consult a doctor or nutritionist for receiving personalised healthcare advice or a diet chart.
Knowing what malnutrition is and its symptoms can help you to identify this health condition. As a result, you or your kin can receive timely treatment and experience quick recovery.