1. Nutritional needs
  2. Nutritional Disorders
  3. Malnutrition and undernutrition

Malnutrition and Undernutrition Explained

This article explains the definitions of malnutrition and undernutrition, the causes, risk factors and potential treatments for each.

Malnutrition and Undernutrition Explained

Malnutrition and undernutrition are two of the most pervasive and devastating forms of poverty, impacting more than two billion people around the world. Malnutrition and undernutrition are caused by inadequate access to food, improper nutrition, lack of knowledge about nutrition, and a range of environmental, economic, and social factors. This article will explain the causes and consequences of malnutrition and undernutrition, as well as what can be done to prevent or treat them. Malnutrition is an umbrella term that covers both under- and over-nutrition, which have vastly different consequences for human health.

Undernutrition is generally caused by food insecurity, when people do not have enough food or the right kinds of food to meet their basic needs. Malnutrition caused by undernutrition can lead to stunted growth, weakened immune systems, and an increased risk of disease. Over-nutrition, on the other hand, is caused by consuming too much food relative to energy needs, leading to obesity and other health risks. This article will provide an in-depth look at malnutrition and undernutrition, exploring their causes, symptoms, and treatments. We will also examine the role of policies and programs in addressing malnutrition and undernutrition worldwide.

Finally, we will explore how individuals can play a part in creating a more nutritious future.

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a general term that refers to a state of ill health caused by an insufficient or imbalanced diet. It is commonly associated with a lack of essential nutrients that are necessary for proper growth, development, and overall health. Malnutrition can occur in both adults and children, and is classified as either acute or chronic. Undernutrition is typically used to describe more severe forms of malnutrition, specifically when someone is suffering from extreme deficiencies in energy intake, protein intake, or other essential nutrients. Undernutrition is usually associated with low body weight, and can lead to stunting or wasting, depending on the severity and length of time of the deficiency. The difference between malnutrition and undernutrition lies in the severity of the deficiency.

Malnutrition is a general term that refers to any state of ill health caused by an insufficient or imbalanced diet, while undernutrition describes more severe forms of malnutrition that are associated with extreme deficiencies in energy intake, protein intake, or other essential nutrients.


Treatments for malnutrition and undernutrition depend on the severity of the condition. Mild cases can often be treated by improving dietary intake, while more severe cases may require medical intervention such as vitamin and mineral supplements or specialized diets. For those with malnutrition, increasing the amount and quality of food consumed is the most effective treatment. This may include increasing the number of meals eaten per day, or replacing energy-dense foods with nutrient-dense alternatives.

In some cases, dietary supplements and vitamin injections may be necessary to correct any deficiencies. Undernutrition is generally treated by increasing dietary intake and providing adequate nutrition. This may involve providing extra meals or high-calorie snacks, and supplementing the diet with vitamins and minerals. In more severe cases, a feeding tube may be needed to ensure adequate nutrition.

In both cases, it’s important to address any underlying conditions that may be causing malnutrition or undernutrition. This may include treating chronic illnesses or improving access to food resources. In addition, psychological and social support may be needed to ensure that individuals receive the nutrition they need.

Risk Factors

Malnutrition and undernutrition are both influenced by a number of risk factors. These can be divided into environmental, socioeconomic, and biological risk factors.

Environmental Risk FactorsOne of the most important environmental factors is access to food. Those living in poverty are less likely to have access to nutritious food and may resort to cheaper, less healthy options. This can also be affected by geographical location, as some areas may have limited access to fresh produce or other healthy food options. Additionally, an individual’s lifestyle can influence their nutritional status.

Those who are busy or don’t have access to cooking facilities may find it difficult to prepare nutritious meals and may rely on convenience foods or takeaways.

Socioeconomic Risk Factors

Poverty and unemployment can be major contributors to malnutrition and undernutrition. Other socioeconomic factors, such as education and cultural practices, can also play a role. For example, if individuals lack knowledge about nutrition or don’t understand the importance of a balanced diet, they may not prioritize healthy eating.

Biological Risk Factors

Certain medical conditions and medications can affect an individual’s ability to absorb nutrients from the foods they eat. This can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, which can contribute to malnutrition or undernutrition.

In addition, certain genetic conditions may cause an individual to be unable to process certain nutrients, which can also lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Causes of Malnutrition and Undernutrition

Malnutrition and undernutrition have a variety of causes. These range from inadequate access to food, to physiological, social, or economic factors.

Inadequate Access to Nutritious Food

One of the most common causes of malnutrition and undernutrition is inadequate access to nutritious food. This is often the result of poverty, as those with limited means are unable to purchase adequate amounts of food or the types of food necessary for good health.

In addition, those living in rural areas may not have access to markets or other sources of nutritious food.

Physiological Causes

Malnutrition and undernutrition can also be caused by physiological factors, such as an inability to absorb nutrients due to a digestive disorder, or an intolerance to certain foods. Other physiological causes include hormonal imbalances, such as those caused by a thyroid disorder, and chronic illnesses such as cancer or HIV/AIDS.

Social Factors

Social factors can also contribute to malnutrition and undernutrition. These include cultural practices that limit the availability or consumption of certain foods, as well as social norms that discourage the consumption of nutritious foods.

In some cases, social and economic pressures can also lead to overconsumption of unhealthy foods.

Economic Factors

Finally, economic factors can play a role in malnutrition and undernutrition. Those living in economically disadvantaged areas may have limited access to healthy foods due to their cost, or may not be able to afford the necessary supplements or health care costs associated with treating nutritional deficiencies. In addition, those living in poverty may not be able to afford the time needed to prepare nutritious meals, instead relying on cheaper processed foods with lower nutritional value. In conclusion, malnutrition and undernutrition are two different conditions, each with their own causes, risk factors, and treatments.

It is important to recognize that both can have serious impacts on physical and mental health, and appropriate interventions should be tailored to each individual's needs. Education about healthy eating habits and access to nutritious foods is essential for preventing malnutrition and undernutrition.

Eli Criscione
Eli Criscione

Freelance bacon fan. Wannabe social media aficionado. Subtly charming pop culture specialist. Amateur music evangelist. Subtly charming music trailblazer.