What Causes Malnutrition in Children?

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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Malnutrition in children is caused by both external and internal factors. Children become malnourished when they do not receive the proper amount of nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, in their diet. In some cases, malnutrition results because the child has a disease that prevents her body from absorbing the necessary nutrients. In other cases, children are malnourished because they do not have access to enough food.

Conditions that can cause malnutrition in children if not treated properly include celiac disease and lactose intolerance. Children with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, the protein found in wheat and certain other grains. With celiac disease, the child's immune system attacks gluten, which can lead to damage to the intestines, preventing nutrients from being absorbed.

Signs that a child may be suffering from malnutrition caused by celiac disease include weight loss and anemia. The child may also not get enough calcium, leading to rickets, or softened bones. Symptoms of celiac disease also include bloating and diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance is another condition that can lead to malnutrition in children. Many children need dairy to get adequate amounts of calcium in their diet. Children who are lactose intolerant cannot digest milk and other dairy products properly and may avoid them. One way to avoid malnutrition in children caused by lactose intolerance is for the children to eat other sources of calcium, such as leafy greens and nuts.


Another medical condition that can cause malnutrition is cystic fibrosis. When a child has cystic fibrosis, the mucous cells produce thick mucous that clogs the airways as well as the tubes that connect the intestines and pancreas. The connection between the pancreas is necessary for transporting enzymes that help a child's body absorb protein and vitamins A, C, and K. When the tubes are blocked, malnutrition can result.

Some babies and children may become malnourished if they suffer from a condition that makes eating unpleasant. A baby with acid reflux disease may refuse to eat. If the condition is left untreated, he may develop dysphagia, which makes swallowing painful or in some cases impossible.

Lack of an adequate diet is another cause of malnutrition in children. A very young child can become malnourished if he doesn't get proper nutrition from his mother right after birth. Children in countries where food is scarce or where poverty is rampant are at greater risk for malnutrition than children who live in developed countries, where many foods are fortified with extra vitamins and nutrients.


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Post 3

@KoiwiGal - The same kind of thing goes on today in Western countries as well though.

It makes me think of all those kids with vitamin D deficiency because their mothers put too much sunscreen on them all the time.

I'm sure there are some pampered kids out there who suffer from nourishment because they aren't made to eat their veges.

Equally, there are kids in the States whose mothers can't afford vegetables. I'll bet they aren't in the best health either even if they aren't exactly malnourished children.

Post 2

@browncoat - While ignorance can play a part, I'd say poverty is still a factor!

Those poor people can be so vulnerable to misinformation as well.

I remember a few years back there was a particular company who advertised their milk in Africa as being a complete food for babies. Since it was only cows milk, of course it wasn't a complete food for children.

But, it was expensive and many of the mothers thought they were doing the best thing, putting their kids on it. Several of them died and others suffered from severe malnutrition.

There was no law saying they couldn't blatantly lie like that and it was only pressure from the world community that got them to stop it.

I mean, the same thing happened in Western countries years ago when women were encouraged to switch from breast milk to powder. People need to be more cynical.

Post 1

I volunteered as an aid worker for a while, so I have a lot of first hand experience of child malnutrition in Africa.

The problem seems to be that the environment and social climate of the countries there is changing so rapidly that people aren't able to catch up.

Once they knew exactly how to grow the kinds of plants and hunt or tend the kinds of animal they needed to keep their children healthy. They didn't need to analyze it.

But, now what with droughts and disease and over hunting, the traditional sources of food aren't available. They don't realize they need to feed their children a varied diet, because they've never been taught that... it used to be something that just happened.

It's particularly sad because in many cases the malnutrition comes more from ignorance, rather than poverty.

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