backup og meta

Malnourished Preschoolers: Signs to Watch Out For

Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS · Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jun 01, 2021

Malnourished Preschoolers: Signs to Watch Out For

Malnutrition in children may result in various health concerns, like delayed growth and development and increased vulnerability to infections. What signs should you watch out for to recognize malnourished preschoolers? And how can you intervene to prevent the effects of malnutrition in children?

Malnutrition: All You Need to Know

Malnutrition, defined

Before we discuss the signs of malnourished preschoolers, let’s first clarify what malnutrition means.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition doesn’t just refer to nutritional deficiencies; it also covers excesses and imbalances. Essentially, below are the 3 broad groups of malnutrition:

  • Undernutrition, which includes underweight, wasting, and stunting
  • Micronutrient and macronutrient deficiencies and excess
  • Overweight and obesity, as well as diet-related non-communicable diseases like diabetes

The bottom line is, malnutrition is not confined to underweight children or those with short stature. If your preschooler has a higher-than-normal weight, and if they are experiencing signs of a specific micronutrient deficiency, they might also be malnourished.

Malnourished Preschoolers: Signs to Watch Out For

Below are the signs that parents must keep an eye on to spot malnutrition in their kids:

Weight Loss

A common sign of malnutrition is unintentional weight loss, which is usually more than 10% of their weight.

The best way to check if your child is losing weight is by getting their weight and plotting it monthly in their height-for-weight growth chart. Additionally, you can check if their clothes are getting loose, such as when they now need to use belts when they didn’t need to before.

A decrease in percentile for weight-for-height in the growth chart usually means your child is suffering from acute malnutrition or low body mass index (BMI); it typically happens when the child doesn’t consume enough healthy foods or develops illnesses or infections.

Too much weight gain

If your child’s weight is more than the expected weight for their height or age, it might also be a case of malnutrition.

Some overweight and obesity cases happen because the child overeats on a regular basis, doesn’t exercise enough, or both. Consider setting mealtime schedules to avoid unnecessary snacks, avoiding high-calorie diet, sugary foods and sweets, and consumption of fatty foods, and help them exercise by engaging them in fun, physical activities. 

5 Things to Do When Your Preschooler is Overeating


Stunting, also known as a decrease in percentile for height-for-age, may happen due to long-term or recurrent undernutrition.

It may be a little difficult to detect stunting unless you’re regularly monitoring your child’s height. If you feel that your preschooler’s height is faltering, bring him or her to the doctor for confirmation.

Lack of energy

One of the signs of malnourished preschoolers is low energy levels. It’s typically present if your child gets tired quickly than other children or if they play or move less often than usual.

Lack of energy is easily observable due to a preschooler’s naturally curious and playful nature.

Other signs of malnutrition in children

Besides weight loss, too much weight gain, stunting, and low energy levels, the following may also be indicative of malnutrition:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Experiencing frequent illness and taking a long time to recover
  • Wounds that take a long time to heal
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling cold
  • Pale skin
  • Bruising easily
  • Aching joints
  • Thinning hair
  • Bleeding gums
  • Night blindness
  • Slow intellectual or behavioral development and poor academic performance
  • Soft and tender bones
  • Edema or fluid retention [e.g. edema of hands and feet; pot belly]
  • Old man facies
  • Fluid and electrolyte imbalances
  • Poor skin turgor
  • Loss of fat and skeletal muscle
  • Sunken eyes
  • Oral ulcers
  • Please note that some of the above-mentioned symptoms can point out a deficiency in a specific micronutrient.

    For instance, bleeding gums may indicate that your child needs more vitamin C or K; pale skin can be due to iron-deficiency anemia, and soft bones may mean a calcium deficiency.

    malnourished preschoolers signs

    When to seek medical help

    If you notice any of the signs and symptoms above, talk to your child’s doctor at the soonest possible time.

    Do the same thing when you’re worried about any aspect of your child’s growth and development.

    Key Takeaways

    Malnutrition is a general term that indicates a deficiency, an excess, or imbalance in a person’s nutritional intake.

    The signs of malnourished preschoolers are not confined to thin-looking and underweight children. A child who’s overweight or has obesity can also be considered malnourished.

    In some instances, children with a healthy weight also experience malnutrition if they have micronutrient deficiencies.

    To prevent malnutrition, children must have a healthy, balanced diet and moderate physical activity. Finally, don’t forget that regular check-ups with the pediatrician are also essential.

    Learn more about Preschooler Nutrition here. 


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

    Medically reviewed by

    Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS

    Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jun 01, 2021

    advertisement iconadvertisement

    Was this article helpful?

    advertisement iconadvertisement
    advertisement iconadvertisement