backup og meta

Malnutrition And Its Effects On Child Development

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 15, 2023

Malnutrition And Its Effects On Child Development

Malnutrition, or the imbalances between the energy and calories we need and receive, can have a huge impact on children. In this article, we’ll discuss the effects of malnutrition on child development.

Types of Malnutrition

Before we move further into the effects of malnutrition in child development, let’s first emphasize that there are several forms of malnutrition.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the following types:

  • Undernutrition, which denotes deficiency in overall caloric or protein intake. A child may develop marasmus (deficiency in protein and calories), kwashiorkor (lack more in protein than in calories), or starvation, which typically happens when a child has no access to food for a long time.
  • Micronutrient-related malnutrition, which talks about either micronutrient deficiency or excess. Please note that micronutrient deficiency (lack of specific vitamins or minerals in the diet) is more common. Examples include inadequate vitamin A, calcium, or iodine intake.
  • Overweight or obesity, which points out taking in more calories than what the body needs.

Depending on the type, the effects of malnutrition in childhood also varies.

malnutrition effects on child development

The Effects of Malnutrition in Child Development

Initially, malnutrition will bring evident weight changes. Undernourished kids will most likely be underweight, while kids who consume too much calories while having very little physical activity will probably have a higher-than-normal body mass index (BMI).

In the long run, malnutrition might lead to the following consequences:

Effects on Physical Health

Unaddressed, malnutrition, more specifically undernutrition, can lead to numerous health problems, including:

  • Stunting and growth failure, including mental and intellectual development
  • Weakened immunity; children become more vulnerable to illnesses and infections.
  • Reduced muscle strength which affects their ability to perform simple physical tasks like chores and playing games.
  • Impaired wound healing
  • Dehydration, since malnutrition results in the body’s reduced ability to regulate fluids and salts.
  • Delayed sexual development and even infertility

Specific micronutrient deficiencies might also lead to various symptoms or conditions like:

  • Anemia due to iron deficiency
  • Rashes and reduced immunity because of zinc deficiency
  • Nerve problems due to lack of vitamin B12 in the diet
  • Night blindness because of inadequate vitamin A intake
  • Finally, children who are overweight or have obesity have an increased risk of developing severe long-term conditions like cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke, and diabetes.

    malnutrition effects on child development

    Effects on Mental Health and Social Interaction

    The effects of malnutrition in child development also extend to mental health.

    Did you know that malnutrition can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, self-neglect, and introversion?

    Any of these conditions can eventually result in the deterioration of social interaction.

    Effects on Educational Attainment

    Of course, we cannot discount the fact that malnutrition also influences the child’s academic performance.

    Reports state that young children who experience stunting in the first 2 years of their lives may have lower cognitive test scores and higher absenteeism and re-enrollment rates.

    Deficiencies in certain nutrients can also result in faster neuron loss, which might cause impairment in speech and memory. Moreover, inadequate intake of protein, zinc, iron, and vitamin B can cause lower intelligence quotients (IQ).

    Preventing Malnutrition in Children

    The first step in the prevention of malnutrition is to identify its cause.

    The causes of malnutrition in kids vary; undernutrition, for instance, may result from financial constraints. On the other hand, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight and obesity can happen when children do not have a balanced diet.

    Bringing your child to the pediatrician is the best way to diagnose an issue. In case your child needs a balanced diet, they can help you make a healthy meal plan. Similarly, if your little one has a condition that affects nutrient absorption, they will be able to address it, too.

    Generally, you can prevent the effects of malnutrition in child development by:

    • Keeping track of your child’s diet. Make sure that they have plenty of fruits and vegetables in their meals. Additionally, follow the correct portion sizes, especially for grains and proteins.
    • Considering vitamin supplements. Talk to their doctor about the possibility of giving them vitamin supplements to prevent micronutrient deficiencies.
    • Intervening when issues that affect their diet arise. Quickly addressing problems that affect their diet may also prevent malnutrition. Dental problems, anxiety, stress, and eating habits can significantly influence their food intake.

    Learn more about Childhood Malnutrition here. 


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

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 15, 2023

    advertisement iconadvertisement

    Was this article helpful?

    advertisement iconadvertisement
    advertisement iconadvertisement