National Nutrition Week -- Difference between malnutrition and undernutrition

National Nutrition Week -- Difference between malnutrition and undernutrition
Foods to deal with malnutrition. © Shutterstock

Malnutrition is not the same as undernutrition! Here's is more information.

Written by Bhakti Paun Sharma |Updated : September 2, 2015 6:54 PM IST

Poverty is closely associated with malnutrition in India and most developing countries. However, you will be surprised to know that the affluent class kids also suffer from different types of malnutrition. If you are among the many who assume that malnutrition means lack of nutrition, you may be surprised to know the difference. Malnutrition and undernutrition are two different terms. In fact, undernutrition is just a type of the former. We discussed this with our expert Neelanjana Singh, chief nutrition consultant at PSRI hospitals. Here is an excerpt from it.

What is undernutrition?

Over 923 million people in the world are undernourished. India has 42 percent of the world s underweight children and a third of the women in the reproductive age group are under-nourished with BMI below the cut-off level of 18. Undernutrition is lack or deficiency of nutrients and energy in kids or adults.

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Being undernutritioned could mean being underweight or too short according to age or excessively thin. An individual may not look dangerously thin but lack certain minerals and vitamins that may lead to further health complications. While risk of undernutrition is higher in poor class people, unhealthy food habits can lead to undernutrition even in affluent class children or adults. Did you know that nutritional deficiencies can also lead to hair loss.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition, on the other hand, is not just deficiency but also an excess of nutrients or vitamins in the body. Following are some types of malnutrition:

  • Marasmus or protein energy malnutrition: This is caused due to the lack of proteins. Those suffering from this condition appear dangerously thin. Excess loss of muscle and fat are the causes of marasmus in children. This often leads to altered brain development and heart functioning.
  • Kwashiorkar: This is also a form of protein-energy deficiency but at an advanced stage. Limbs and face, especially the belly appear swollen in this condition. Patchy or scaly skin, loss of hair colour and slow healing are some of the symptoms of Kwashiorkar. Did you know that malnutrition could be a cause of tuberculosis?
  • Lack of vitamins and minerals: The body needs a proper dose of certain vitamins and minerals. Deficiency of these can lead to severe health problems and cause various ailments too. Iron deficiency leading to anemia is the most common form of malnutrition in the country which mostly affects pregnant women and children. Zinc deficiency is also prevalent in many kids, leading to weak immunity and improper growth. Vitamin A deficiency due to improper food habits weakens the immunity, thereby increasing risks of diseases and child blindness.
  • Overnutrition: Malnutrition of this type arises from eating too much, lack of physical activity, eating junk or wrong foods and intake of too many supplements. Obesity and being overweight are causes of over nutrition and is prevalent in the affluent classes of the country. Overnutrition leads to digestive issues like diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps. You must know these 5 myths about nutrition that can ruin your child's health.

Malnutrition can result in a lot of complications like diabetes, heart and cardiovascular diseases, effect on the sense of smell, taste and sight, and lead to psychiatric symptoms too. A proper diet and physical activity is required for sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals in the body and their effective absorption.

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