What is Malnutrition?

When we think of malnutrition, we tend to think of undernutrition – an inadequate intake of energy, protein and nutrients. We often think of people who do not have adequate access to food to meet nutritional needs – such as those who are homeless, very low income families, or those living in developing countries.

However, undernutrition can also occur when a person has access to plenty of food – if that person consumes a poor diet that does not include adequate nutrients from the basic food groups. For example, an obese person who consumes more calories than they need, may still suffer from undernutrition if their diet lacks the nutrients their body needs for good health.

Furthermore, malnutrition also include overnutrition – this occurs when a person has an excessive intake of energy, protein and other nutrients.

Those who are the highest risk of malnutrition include the following groups of people:

People who are homeless and/or on very low incomes.

Elderly people, especially those who are hospitalized or in long-term institutional care – they often have decreased nutritional intake due to illness, decreased appetite, etc.

People recovering from a serious illness or condition – their bodies may require more nutrients for recovery, and they may have a decreased appetite due to their illness or condition.

People with chronic eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa.

People with a poor diet that does not provide adequate nutrients.

People who regularly overeat.

People with mental illness – they may develop poor eating habits or eating disorders.

People with mobility problems – they may have difficulty getting out to buy foods, and /or find it difficult to prepare foods.

People with digestive disorders and stomach conditions – even though they may eat properly, their bodies cannot absorb the nutrients they need for good health.

People with alcoholism – alcohol contains calories, which can reduce appetite, leading to inadequate intake of nutritious foods. Alcoholism may also lead to gastritis or pancreas damage, which decrease the body’s ability to digest food, absorb certain vitamins, and produce hormones which regulate metabolism.

The following are some signs and symptoms of malnutrition:

  • Loss of fat
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Reduced tissue mass
  • Higher susceptibility to feeling cold
  • Longer healing times for wounds
  • Longer recover times from infections
  • Longer recovery from illnesses
  • Problems with fertility
  • Tiredness, fatigue, or apathy
  • Depression
  • Irritability



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