Undernutrition or malnutrition?

7th October 2020

These terms are not synonymous. Undernutrition is a deficiency of nutrients, while malnutrition refers to an unbalanced diet (due to an excess or deficiency). Malnutrition due to too much food is the most common form in developed countries. i.e. excess weight or obesity. Any of these problems can have very serious long-term health consequences for the child.

Differences between undernutrition and malnutrition

Undernutrition is a disease caused by an inappropriate diet, primarily when deficient in calories (hypocaloric) and/or proteins (hypoproteic). It can also be caused by malabsorption of nutrients, such as with coeliac disease. Meanwhile, malnutrition is an unbalanced diet due to an excess or deficiency in one or more nutrients that the body needs (vitamins, minerals, etc.). It is common in children who only eat certain food groups, leaving the rest to the side.

Undernutrition is most common among families with limited financial resources or in underdeveloped countries. It involves insufficient food intake and a lack of food variety. On the other hand, malnutrition is most common in developed countries, particularly due to excessive eating, where it manifests itself in excess weight or obesity, or to an unbalanced diet (children who only eat certain food groups and do not consume enough vegetables, fruit, fish or pulses, making their diets low in minerals, vitamins, fibre, etc.).

Undernutrition is a serious problem causing infant mortality worldwide. According to Doctors without Borders, 3.5 to 5 million children under the age of six die from undernutrition every year. The problem is difficult to eradicate as it is caused by the poverty in which so many countries are mired. However, malnutrition in financially stable families can be prevented, simply by ensuring that children have a balanced diet.

Consequences of poor nutrition

As we have seen, the consequences of undernutrition are very serious. Depending on the degree of undernutrition, children may be short in stature, pale, thin and even sicker and weaker with more chance of contracting serious diseases.

The consequences of malnutrition are also very serious. Depending on the degree of malnutrition, malnourished children may have abnormal hair pigmentation, skin alterations, vision problems, become sick more easily and not develop properly. Other diseases that appear as a result of a lack of certain nutrients are anaemia (in the case of iron), thyroid and goitre problems (iodine-related) and rickets (due to a lack of vitamin D).

Malnutrition due to excessive eating can cause tooth decay, excess weight, infant obesity, etc. This will also affect the health of the child when he becomes an adult.

That's why you need to make sure your child has a balanced, varied diet that includes all the required nutrients in the recommended amount, avoiding deficiencies and excesses of the main nutrients and in the calorie intake.

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