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What is Undernutrition and its Long Term Effects?

Dt Sheetal chhabria

Dt Sheetal chhabria

  Vasanth nagar, Bengaluru     May 2, 2019

   5 min     


What is Undernutrition?

Undernutrition is an important cause of death and illness among young children and women. It is a deficiency of calories or one or more essential protein. It occurs when an individual cannot prepare or obtain food, or have a disorder in which they are not able to eat or absorb enough nutrients to maintain their basic needs of growth and energy, or to maintain a healthy immune system.

Causes of Undernutrition

There are different causes to why someone undergoes Undernutrition. These causes can be classified into immediate, underlying, and primary and may result from the following:

The immediate causes include:

  • Very poor diets. Individuals may have meals which are low in quantity, low in a nutrient variety or density or eaten infrequently.

  • In infants, it may occur due to insufficient breast milk.

  • Undernutrition can occur in an individual with the disease, diarrhoea, HIV/AIDS, ear infections or respiratory tract, hookworms, measles, and other gut parasites.

  • Infection plays an essential role in increasing the risk of Undernutrition because sick people feel weak and often eat less, lose nutrients, absorb fewer nutrients.

The underlying causes are:

  • Inadequate health services: The patient might be at a remote location, thus having no proper access to healthcare. 

  • Family food insecurity: Food insecurity refers to the reduced intake of food, or improper eating patterns due to economic conditions, or similar reasons that make it hard for the family to avail food.

  • Unhygienic living conditions (such as poor sanitation and poor water supplies)

  • Improper care of vulnerable household members (such as unfair sharing of food within families): If a person is not given proper food in the house, and similar such conditions.

The basic causes are:

  • Lack of information, economic, and political insecurity

  • Lack of resources at all levels and natural disasters

  • War

  • Lack of unequal status of women

  • Poverty

Signs and Symptoms of Undernutrition

Undernutrition can be observed through a variety of signs and symptoms. These include:

  • Loss of muscle mass and fat

  • Fatigue, tiredness

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Weight loss

  • A swollen stomach

  • Irritability

  • Sunken eyes and hollow cheeks

  • Having a difficult time concentrating

  • Wounds on the patient take a longer time to heal

  • Skin and hair of the patient are dried and look unhealthy

Long term effects of Undernutrition

If a person remains undernourished for long, then they might have to deal with various long-lasting effects. The long-lasting physiologic effects of Undernutrition include increased susceptibility to fat accumulation mostly in the central region of the body, insulin resistance in adulthood, lower fat oxidation, hypertension, lower resting, and postprandial energy expenditure, obesity, dyslipidemia, diabetes, and a reduced capacity for manual work.

Below are some conditions that could arise due to Undernutrition.


Poor people with lack of money and knowledge are at the high prevalence of overweight/ obesity, stunting, and the risk of metabolic diseases. According to a study, stunting can be seen mainly in children with age 1 to 4 years. The prevalence of obesity and overweight is moderately seen in early childhood and is increased progressively in girls (10 years old).


Undernutrition can also cause stunting. Nutritional stunting affects more than 178 million children. The factors that contribute nutritional stunting are maternal Undernutrition, impaired absorption of nutrients caused by intestinal infections and parasites, and the number of complementary foods during infancy.


Poor nutrition can lead to an abnormal level of blood lipids. The standard type of dyslipidemia is hyperlipidemia (high lipid levels). It can affect any lipid parameter such as HDL cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels, triglycerides, or a combination of these lipids.


An individual who has Undernutrition discovered type 2 diabetes. This occurs especially in the case of patients that are obese and do not receive the right type of nutrition. 

Several research has shown that severe undernourishment may lead to an increased risk of contracting conditions like high- blood pressure and brings about various chronic health disorders. So, it is important that one works towards the prevention and treatment of undernourishment.

Prevention and Treatment of Undernourishment

The best way to figure out how to prevent undernourishment is to pinpoint and address the possible underlying causes and then move forward from there. 

In addition to that, huge organisations, NGOs, government agencies, as well as schools and religious grounds, could work towards the prevention of malnourishment by educating everyone and ensuring that mouths are fed.

Undernourishment can be avoided by adding in zinc, iron and iodine in your regular diet, preferably in the form of supplements. As a community, we all must work on educating the masses about undernourishment and what causes it. 

Schools can also encourage students to opt for healthy foods as well as push them to perform physical activities. Adults should also indulge in moderate exercises to prevent being overweight and obesity.

On a personal level, we all must focus on having a properly balanced meal with the right amounts of micro and macronutrients. So ensure you have proper carbs, proteins, fast as well as proper vitamins and hydration.

If we all work together, we can work towards the prevention of undernourishment, but in order to treat it, one must deal with it individually.

Always visit a doctor when you find signs of undernourishment in yourself, and should you notice the signs and symptoms in a friend or family member, immediately refer them to a healthcare professional. A doctor can help you with proper treatment and provide solutions.


If you believe that you or someone you know may be malnourished, especially undernourished, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

If you or someone you know is going through something similar, then remember that you are not alone. There are people and help that you can reach out to help you cope with these challenges. If you have a related question and want to consult with an expert then, you can find one near you on Medikoe. 

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