Malnutrition Common Symptoms and Effects

Malnutrition is a condition that occurs when a person’s food intake lacks the necessary nutrients to maintain health. Malnutrition can affect all age groups resulting in several health issues, from weakened immune systems to stunted growth. In this guide, we’ll explore the basics with the definition, symptoms, and effects of malnutrition,


What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition refers to an imbalance of nutrients in the body, that occurs when a person’s diet lacks the vital nutrients and vitamins which are necessary for health.

This can be the result of not consuming enough food, or when they consume food that doesn’t provide the necessary nutrients.

It is possible for a person can even gain weight while suffering fromlack of nutrition.

Malnutrition potentially affects people of all ages, but it is particularly common in children and older adults with a range of diseases linked to it, from weakened immune systems to stunted growth.

It can exemplify in various ways, such as weight loss, stunted growth, fatigue, and weakness.

Symptoms of malnutrition can differ relying on the severity and duration of the condition, and the age of the patient.


Common Causes of Malnutrition

1-Health problems

2-Lack of Intake of Food

3-Digestive Disorders

4-Low quality food

5-High Consumption of Alcohol


Common symptoms indication of Malnutrition

1-Weight loss

2-Fatigue, feeling all-time tired


4-Weakened immune system.

5-took a long time recovering from illness

6-Poor concentration.


Effects of Malnutrition on the Body

Malnutrition in children causes stunted growth, slowed development, slow motor learning, and an increased risk of infections. In severe cases, malnutrition can lead to organ failure and even death. It’s important to seek medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of malnutrition.


Province/Region Prevalence of Stunting
Balochistan 46.6%
KP 40.0%
KP-NMD 48.3%
Punjab 36.4%
Sindh 45.5%
ICT 32.6%
GB 46.6%
AJK 39.3%
Pakistan Nutrition Survey 2018    

In Adults:

    • Weight loss and muscle wasting

    • Weakness and fatigue

    • Increased susceptibility to infections

    • Impaired immune function

    • Poor wound healing

    • Nutrient deficiencies (e.g., vitamin and mineral deficiencies)

    • Increased risk of chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes)

    • Hormonal imbalances

    • Cognitive impairment and difficulty concentrating

    • Digestive problems (e.g., diarrhea, constipation)


    • Decreased bone density and increased risk of fractures
    • Impaired fertility and reproductive health

    In Children

      • Stunted growth and development

      • Delayed milestones (e.g., walking, talking)

      • Poor weight gain and underweight status

      • Weakened immune system and frequent infections

      • Cognitive impairments and learning difficulties

      • Nutrient deficiencies leading to micronutrient deficiencies (e.g., iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin A deficiency)

      • Increased risk of childhood diseases (e.g., diarrhea, respiratory infections)

      • Delayed sexual maturation and puberty
      • Long-term effects on physical and mental health

      In Older Adults

        • Muscle weakness and decreased mobility

        • Increased frailty and risk of falls

        • Impaired wound healing and delayed recovery from illness or surgery

        • Reduced immune function and increased susceptibility to infections

        • Cognitive decline and dementia

        • Nutrient deficiencies leading to weakened bone health and increased risk of osteoporosis

        • Increased risk of chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis)

        • Decreased appetite and altered taste perception, leading to decreased food intake

        • Impaired dental health and oral problems

        How Malnourishment Effects Physical Growth?

        Malnourishment during childhood can have far-reaching consequences on physical growth and development. Children who experience chronic malnourishment may fail to attain their full potential in terms of height and weight. Insufficient intake of essential nutrients necessary for bone growth can lead to skeletal abnormalities and heightened susceptibility to fractures. Stunted growth caused by malnourishment may also result in delayed puberty and reproductive health issues later in life.

        Malnourishment Effects on Organ Development

        Malnourishment can adversely impact the development and functionality of vital organs. The heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver may not achieve their full potential, resulting in impaired organ function. Consequently, there is a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems, renal disorders, and liver dysfunction among individuals who have experienced malnourishment during critical stages of growth.

        Malnourishment Weakened Immune System

        Adequate nutrition plays a critical role in fortifying a strong and resilient immune system. Malnourishment weakens the immune response, rendering individuals more susceptible to infections and diseases. Insufficient intake of essential vitamins and minerals hampers the body’s ability to combat pathogens, leading to frequent illnesses and protracted recovery periods.

        Impact of Malnourishment on Muscle Mass and Strength

        Muscle development relies on an adequate intake of proteins and other essential nutrients. Malnourished individuals may experience muscle wasting, diminished muscle mass, and reduced strength. This can severely hamper physical performance and overall stamina, limiting their ability to engage in daily activities and significantly affecting their quality of life.

        Malnourishment Affects Mental Health

        Muscle development relies on an adequate intake of proteins and other essential nutrients. Malnourished individuals may experience muscle wasting, diminished muscle mass, and reduced strength. This can severely hamper physical performance and overall stamina, limiting their ability to engage in daily activities and significantly affecting their quality of life.

        Cognitive Impairment of Malnourishment 

        Insufficient intake of essential nutrients during critical periods of brain development can result in cognitive impairments. Malnourished individuals may encounter difficulties with memory, attention, concentration, and problem-solving skills. These cognitive deficits can impede educational performance and curtail opportunities for personal and professional growth.

        Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

        The impact of malnourishment extends beyond cognitive impairments and can manifest as emotional and behavioral disorders. Nutritional deficiencies disrupt the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood and emotions. As a result, malnourished individuals may exhibit a higher propensity for depression, anxiety, irritability, and aggressive behavior.

        Impaired Learning Abilities

        Adequate nutrition plays a vital role in optimal learning and intellectual development. Malnourishment hinders the brain’s capacity to absorb and process information efficiently, leading to learning difficulties and lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. These long-term ramifications have a significant impact on academic achievements and future opportunities.


        Micronutrient Deficiencies or hidden hunger

        Micronutrient deficiencies, also known as hidden hunger, occur when the body lacks vital vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal functioning. The most widespread micronutrient deficiencies globally include vitamin A, iron, iodine, and zinc deficiencies.

        Vitamin A Deficiency

        Insufficient vitamin A intake can lead to vision problems, compromised immune function, and increased susceptibility to infections. It remains a significant cause of preventable childhood blindness.

        Iron Deficiency

        Iron plays a vital role in hemoglobin production, which carries oxygen in the blood. Iron deficiency anemia can result in fatigue, weakness, impaired cognitive function, and reduced work capacity.

        Iodine Deficiency

        Inadequate iodine intake can lead to thyroid gland problems, causing goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland) and impaired brain development in children.

        Zinc Deficiency

        Zinc is crucial for immune function, growth, and development. Its deficiency can cause delayed wound healing, increased susceptibility to infections, and growth retardation.

        The Role of Carbohydrates

        Carbohydrates serve as the primary energy source for the body, fueling essential physiological functions and facilitating physical activities. Insufficient intake of carbohydrates can result in fatigue, weakness, and a diminished capacity to carry out daily tasks. Furthermore, the brain heavily relies on glucose, a type of carbohydrate, for optimal cognitive functioning. Inadequate carbohydrate consumption due to malnourishment can adversely affect mental growth and cognitive abilities.

        The Role of Fats

        Fats are vital for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and the synthesis of hormones. They also provide insulation and protection to vital organs. Inadequate fat intake can result in nutrient deficiencies, disrupted hormone production, and compromised organ function. Moreover, fats play a crucial role in brain development, and malnourishment can have detrimental effects on cognitive abilities.

        Protein-Energy Deficiency

        Protein-energy deficiency (PED) stands as the most prevalent form of malnutrition. It occurs due to insufficient protein and calorie intake in one’s diet. PED can be further divided into two subtypes: marasmus and kwashiorkor.

        Obesity-Related Malnutrition

        Obesity-related malnutrition is an often-overlooked form of malnutrition. It occurs when individuals consume an excess of calories but lack essential nutrients in their diet. This paradoxical situation is prevalent in societies where high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods are easily accessible.

        Obesity-related malnutrition can lead to various health issues, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of cancer. This highlights the significance of consuming a balanced diet that prioritizes nutrient-rich foods over mere calorie intake.


        This type of malnutrition stems from severe energy deficiency and often affects infants and young children. It results in stunted growth, muscle wasting, and a weakened immune system. Marasmus primarily occurs due to an overall lack of food consumption.


        Kwashiorkor arises primarily from insufficient dietary protein intake. It typically affects children aged 1 to 4 who have recently stopped breastfeeding. Symptoms include edema (fluid retention), skin lesions, hair loss, and an enlarged liver.


        Stunting in children under the age of five is a form of impaired growth that occurs over an extended period when children have limited access to food, healthcare, and proper care. Stunting, also known as chronic undernutrition, can be measured using the height-for-age nutritional index. It often leads to cognitive impairments, such as delayed motor development, impaired brain function, and poor academic performance, due to its negative impact on children.


        Wasting in children under the age of five refers to being thin for their height due to acute food shortages or illness. Also known as acute malnutrition, wasting is characterized by a rapid decline in nutritional status over a short period. Children affected by wasting are at a higher risk of mortality. The weight-for-height nutritional index or mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) can be used to measure wasting. Acute malnutrition can be categorized as moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) or severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

        Overweighting in Adults

        Overweight and obesity in adults refer to the excessive accumulation of fat that can negatively impact health. Body mass index (BMI) is a commonly used index to classify overweight and obesity in adults based on weight for height. These conditions contribute to the development of numerous non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, gallbladder disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and respiratory symptoms.

        Please note that the effects of malnutrition can vary depending on the severity and duration of the condition, as well as individual factors. Early identification and intervention are crucial in preventing and addressing malnutrition-related complications. It is important to seek professional medical advice for accurate assessment and management of malnutrition.

        Sabahat Ali

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