What Are the Different Types of Malnutrition?

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  • Written By: Lumara Lee
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Malnutrition can be divided into undernutrition and overnutrition. Undernutrition, which is when someone isn’t getting enough calories or nutrients, can be due to either an insufficient diet or a problem assimilating nutrients. Overnutrition occurs when too many nutrients are ingested. Both types of malnutrition can lead to serious health problems which can be fatal.

The main types of malnutrition caused by undernutrition include kwashiorkor, marasmus, and micronutrient deficiency. Kwashiorkor is a disorder that occurs when the body has an adequate calorie intake but doesn’t receive enough protein and required nutrients. The symptoms of kwashiorkor include edema, anemia, stunted growth, diarrhea, and skin spots. Kwashiorkor usually occurs in children aged five and under who live in regions undergoing famine because young children require adequate nutrition for healthy growth and development.

Marasmus is a type of protein-energy malnutrition. This condition occurs when a person doesn’t receive enough protein or calories. The symptoms include diarrhea, emaciation due to loss of fat and muscle, reduced metabolism, slower heart rate, and low blood pressure. Marasmus is often seen in the elderly and in populations where the people have no knowledge about nutrition.


Micronutrient malnutrition occurs when a person doesn’t receive enough vitamins or minerals to maintain health. Some of the leading worldwide causes of death are a result of the types of malnutrition incurred by micronutrient deficiency. One of the most common forms of malnutrition is anemia, or iron deficiency. When anemia is severe, it can cause extreme lethargy, headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath as well as delayed speech and walking development in children under the ages of five. People may also display symptoms of pica, which means a person has a craving to eat a substance that isn’t food, such as dirt.

Some other common types of malnutrition are scurvy and rickets. Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C. Its symptoms include fatigue, skin spots, and bleeding from the mucus membranes. Scurvy was common in the past among sailors who didn’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables on long voyages at sea. This illness occurs today in famine-stricken regions and in industrialized countries where some people eat too many processed foods devoid of nutrients.

Rickets most often occurs when a person isn’t receiving enough vitamin D. It can also be caused by insufficient calcium intake. Rickets is often found in children living in developing countries. It causes softening of the bones, which can lead to fractures and deformity.


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Post 3

This is one of the reasons I'm really interested in that guy who recently developed a powder that contained all he needed to live in it. So, he basically just needed to mix a drink with the powder and lived off that for a month.

It was cheap and it contained everything a human needs to live. He said after a few days he didn't even have cravings any more.

If we could get something like that to basically every person in the world, hunger would be gone in a generation.

Post 2

@indigomoth - Yeah, I did a little bit of volunteering in Africa while I was on holiday and someone explained it to me very well. It's easy to dismiss this kind of ignorance as stupidity, but, not only do these people not have access to the same kind of education as people do in the West, they are also having to adapt to conditions that their ancestors never faced. Their recent ancestors lived on farms or in forests where getting regular meat wasn't a problem, and where they ate a variety of local foods.

Many Africans these days who suffer from malnutrition are living on foods that were only recently added to their diets and they have no idea which ones need to be eaten in which portions so they can stay healthy.

It's not like the symptoms of malnutrition are all that easy to separate from other disease symptoms either.

Post 1

It always makes me so sad to see kids with kwashiorkor on TV. Because often it is actually caused by ignorance, not because the families actually have too little food to eat.

Since they don't realize that you need a variety of foods, they go for bulk over quality and just subsist off of whatever their starch of choice may be (such as millet, or taro, or whatever). They might have meat as a treat, or beans every now and then, but often these go to the adults.

The children, on the other hand, don't hunger, because they get given sweet treats and all the porridge they can eat. None of which contains enough protein and so they suffer from

mild to extreme deficiency.

With African children you can tell because their hair turns red. Unfortunately, the real harm is done to their brains. And all because their parents don't understand that they really need to include peanuts or beans as a regular part of the diet.

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