Malnutrition | Types and management

Malnutrition | Types and management

Photo: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Malnutrition can occur at any point in the life cycle. However, when it occurs early in life, irreversible damages can be done to the body and brain.

Malnutrition affects a significant proportion of populations, presenting as macro and or micronutrient deficiency disorders. Nutrition disorder means any kind of disorder caused by eating too little or too much of one or more different nutrients.

Classification of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can be classified in different ways but most commonly as to either under nutrition or over nutrition.

Under Nutrition: occurs when nutrients intake does not meet nutrients needs. Stores are then used up and health declines. Many nutrients are in high demand due to the constant state of cell lose and later regeneration in the body. For this reason, certain nutrients stores are exhausted rapidly, such as for many of the vitamins B. In turn regular intake is needed.


Over Nutrition: prolonged consumption of more nutrients than the body needs can lead to over nutrition. In the short run, for instance a week or two, over nutrition may cause a few symptoms such as GI tract distress from excess dietary fibre or iron intake

Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM)

Protein energy malnutrition arise from a deficiency of energy and protein which results in body wasting, primarily of lean tissue, and an increased susceptibility to infection. It occurs more frequently in infants and young children but is also observed in adolescents and adults, mostly lactating women, especially during periods of famine or other emergencies. Severe forms of PEM are Kwashiorkor and Marasmus


Cause: failure to provide an adequate dietary sources of protein to substitute for the protein of the breast milk which had been the child’s only protein source before weaning, usually for the first 18-24 months of life.

Signs and Symptoms of Kwashiorkor: failure of growth but the child is not severely wasted, the abdomen is swollen, hair changes (hair becomes brown, straight and soft), skin rashes, the child becomes inactive, apathetic, irritable and is difficult to feed, oedema of lower limbs and other parts of the body and becomes moon faced


Causes: severe loss or chronic waste of fat, muscles and other tissues of the body. The disease occurs due to shortage of basic nutrition, proteins, vitamins and calories to the body. It is inadequate energy intake in all forms, including protein.

Signs and Symptoms of Marasmus: remarkable failure of growth, severe muscle wasting with flaccid, wrinkled skin and bony prominence, the child looks awake and hungry and displays what is referred to as ‘old person’s face and Oedema is absent


Prevention of PEM

• Incorporating nutrition objectives into development of policies and programs

• Improving household food security

• Protection and promotion of good health o Improving the quality and safety of foods

• Protect and promote breastfeeding and complementary feeding

• Early treatment of common diseases

• Immunization o Growth monitoring

• Promoting appropriate diets and healthy lifestyles


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