What Is the Connection Between Malnutrition and Poverty?

A shanty town.
Lack of access to a variety of nutritious foods causes physical and mental deficiencies that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
Children in poverty don't have the opportunity to eat foods which are best for their development.
Impoverished children eating watermelon.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 March 2015
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The connection between malnutrition and poverty describes a proven link, especially at the lowest income levels. Countries with the lowest economic indicators report the highest rate of malnutrition, especially in children. Children typically represent the economic future of a country, prompting efforts to address malnutrition as a way to promote economic growth and decrease poverty rates.

Studies show direct and indirect consequences of malnutrition and poverty. A direct result of better health allows people to perform physical work and earn more. These workers might become more productive when their nutritional requirements are met, leading to higher wages and the ability to afford health care.

Malnutrition in childhood causes lifelong consequences because it affects a child’s intelligence and ability to learn. Those suffering from malnutrition and poverty typically drop out of school early, reducing their ability to obtain good-paying jobs as adults. Health problems linked to these conditions also relate to time missed from work or school, which might further complicate the cycle.

Research shows reducing poverty alone does not always lead to a healthy population, but that addressing malnutrition does impact poverty levels. In some developing countries, malnutrition represents a significant problem that hinders economic development. It accounts for more than half of child deaths in some regions, reducing the number of future healthy individuals to aid economic growth.


Malnutrition and poverty passes from generation to generation in some undeveloped and underdeveloped countries. Mothers who lack access to proper nutrients produce malnourished offspring. These children face greater challenges in their ability to learn and thrive, and become more susceptible to illness and disease. Their compromised ability to perform physically and mentally typically continues the cycle of poverty.

Scientists found measuring malnutrition levels constitutes a more equitable link to poverty than studying poverty alone. The degree of malnutrition applies to all countries, ethnicities, and cultures, and can be measured scientifically. These researchers learned that using poverty as an indicator of malnutrition contains too many variables, which make results unreliable.

Some countries address a lack of nutrients in the diet through dietary supplements and fortified foods. Providing folic acid to pregnant women reduces the risk of birth defects in their offspring. Iron addresses lower energy levels caused by anemia, which might result in lower productivity. This strategy is seen as a cost-effective way to address malnutrition and poverty in these regions.



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