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Understanding the Different Types of Malnourishment

Expertly reviewed by Chris Icamen · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Apr 20, 2022

    Understanding the Different Types of Malnourishment

    Thousands of people had lost their jobs as the Philippines continue to fight off the COVID-19 pandemic, which is also reflected in a rising number of malnutrition and stunting cases. This saddening news brought the importance of understanding the context and the different types of malnourishment. 

    What is Malnutrition?

    According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is the energy and/or nutrient deficiency, excess, or even imbalance in a person’s diet. Some people may use the words malnutrition and undernutrition or underweight interchangeably. But generally, the former covers three group conditions which are the following:

    • Undernutrition (wasting, stunting, and underweight)
    • Micronutrient-related malnutrition (micronutrient deficiencies or excesses)
    • Overweight, obesity, and other non-communicable diseases (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer)

    Different Types of Malnourishment 


    A lack of calories or one or more essential nutrients causes undernutrition. It is often characterized by either of the two:

    • Not eating enough or having a diet lacking appropriate nutrition or dietary variety (i.e., calories, protein, or other necessary vitamins and minerals)
    • Not being able to properly absorb nutrients from food to maintain good physical and mental health (maybe due to illness). 

    People with undernutrition frequently appear to look like they are underweight as they show signs of bone protruding, dry and inelastic skin, and even thin hair that may end up in hair fall. 

    Other definitions

    Under this type of malnourishment are four broad sub-forms which are wasting, stunting, underweight, and vitamins and minerals kind of deficiency.

    • Wasting is the low weight-for-height ratio. It usually suggests recent and significant weight loss as a result of a lack of food and/or sickness, such as diarrhea, causing the person to lose weight.
    • Stunting refers to the lack of height for one’s age. It is the effect of long-term malnutrition. Stunting has been shown to have a negative impact on a child’s brain function, organ development, and immune system development, preventing them from reaching their full potential.
    • Underweight children have a poor weight-for-age ratio. An underweight child may be referred to as stunted, wasted, or both.

    This type of malnourishment is common in developing countries. Certain conditions also increase the risk of undernutrition:

    • Being poor or falling under the low socioeconomic status (which also implies being homeless).
    • Having psychiatric disorders or any other disease that make them unable to eat well and appropriately.
    • Age is a considerable risk factor as infants, children, and even adolescents need more nutrients as they grow and develop.

    Micronutrient-related malnutrition

    Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, often known as micronutrient deficiencies, can be clustered together. Micronutrients help the body make enzymes, hormones, and other compounds needed for normal growth and development.

    In terms of global public health, iodine, vitamin A, and iron are the most important sources of nutrients. Shortages to these said nutrients provide a serious threat to the health and development of populations globally, particularly children and pregnant women in low-income nations.

    Overweight and obesity

    Most people do not take overweight and obese children as a threat to a type of malnourishment. However, the fat accumulation that is abnormal or excessive could also bring harm to one’s health.

    Diet-relate non-communicable diseases

    Cardiovascular disorders (such as heart attacks and strokes that are typically connected to high blood pressure), some kinds of cancers, and diabetes are examples of diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

    Poor nutrition and unhealthy lifestyles are among the leading causes of chronic diseases around the world.

    How to Treat Different Types of Malnourishment

    Different types of malnourishment may need different ways of treatment, depending on its known causes. A doctor or nutritionist may suggest specific modifications in the types and amounts of meals your child consumes, as well as dietary supplements like vitamins and minerals. 

    Regular checkups with the doctor may include checking on the following:

    • Height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) of the child aligned to his/her age
    • Underlying conditions that may be causing malnutrition
    • Results of blood tests for nutritional deficiencies
    • Other tests based on the child’s medical history and physical examination 

    Learn more about General Health here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Expertly reviewed by

    Chris Icamen

    Dietetics and Nutrition

    Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Apr 20, 2022

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