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What is Malnutrition ?

This follows the pages about What is a Balanced Diet ? and Dietary needs at different stages of life.

The literal meaning of "malnutrition" is "bad nutrition", i.e. dietary intake is, in some way, not appropriate for the organism.

Definition of Malnutrition :

Malnutrition is a state of nutrition in which a deficiency, excess or imbalance of the essential parts of a healthy diet causes measurable adverse effects on bodily tissues (e.g. re. shape, size, composition), bodily functions and hence on medical health.

Malnutrition does not only happen in Third World countries but can also occur in rich countries such as the United States, UK, Australia and European countries.

Malnutrition can take several forms.

The most common are:

  • Undernutrition - which can lead to "undernutrition diseases" details depend on which parts of a healthy diet are lacking.
  • Dietary excesses - which can lead to other medical conditions and diseases depending on which components of the diet are being (or have been) consumed to excess and to what extent.

Even an excess of water can have extremely adverse effects, though of course one would have to drink a large volume in a short space of time (seek expert advice before following apparently unusual, and especially any extreme, dietary regimes).


What is the difference between malnutrition and undernutrition
?

Malnutrition means that the body is showing definite signs of the adverse effects of inappropriate nourishment (normally from dietary intake). Undernutrition is when the adverse effects are due to a shortage of an essential type of nourishment e.g. energy, protein, or a specific vitamin.

That is, undernutrition applies in situations of dietary deficiency. It can be either:

  • General, i.e. due to insufficient amounts of food of any or all types, hence insufficient energy for general activity and resources for the maintenance of the cells, tissues and processes of the body. This leads to starvation.
  • Specific, i.e. lack of sufficient amounts of a single nutrient e.g. a single vitamin or mineral. The health consequences of such a deficiency depend on the nutrient that is lacking and the severity of the deficiency. Different medical conditions - hence different symptoms and risks - follow from different deficiencies. There are many examples of medical conditions due to dietary deficiencies. The prevalence and typical severity of cases vary at different locations around the world. See undernutrition diseases.


What about dietary excess(es) ?

The word "malnutrition" is more commonly used in the context of undernutrition than in the context of "overnutrition". Nevertheless, dietary excesses can also result in adverse medical conditions - some of which can be fatal if not treated successfully. In the same way as undernutrition, dietary excess can be either:

  • General, i.e. due to excessive amounts of food of any or all types, leading to obesity and the many life-threatening conditions associated with it.
  • Specific, i.e. excess of of a single nutrient e.g. a single vitamin or mineral. The health consequences of such excess depend on the nutrient and the severity of the excess. Different medical conditions, hence different symptoms and risks, follow from different excesses. See effects of overnutrition.


See also carbohydrates, types of sugar, dietary fibre (roughage), fatty acids, fats and proteins.

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