Malnutrition occurs when a person receives insufficient or excessive nutrients, resulting in health consequences. It’s “a deficit, excess, or imbalance of energy, protein, and other nutrients” that causes the body’s tissues and structure to deteriorate.

Malnutrition is a term that encompasses both undernutrition and overnutrition. Undernutrition is a deficiency of nutrients that causes stunted growth, wasting, and being underweight. Overnutrition, which can lead to obesity, is caused by a surplus of nutrients. Overnutrition in the form of obesity is beginning to exist in the same communities as undernutrition in several emerging countries.


Undernutrition is referred to as ‘malnutrition’ in most clinical research. The usage of the term ‘malnutrition’ rather than ‘undernutrition’, on the other hand, makes it impossible to distinguish between undernutrition and overnutrition, a lesser-known form of malnutrition. As a result, The Lancet Commission recommended broadening the definition of malnutrition. This was done to encompass “all its forms. Including obesity, undernutrition, and associated nutritional concerns” in a study published in 2019. The World Health Organization and The Lancet Commission have also highlighted “the twin burden of malnutrition,”. This occurs when “overnutrition (overweight and obesity) coexists with undernutrition (slowed growth and wasting).”


Nearly one in every three people worldwide suffers from malnutrition in some form. They include wasting, stunting, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, overweight, obesity, or diet-related noncommunicable diseases. In developing countries, undernutrition is more widespread.

Urban slums have a higher rate of stunting than rural areas. Infants, under-five children, children, adolescents, pregnant women, adults, and the elderly population are all divided into distinct categories in studies on malnutrition. Because different research utilise different growth benchmarks, the prevalence of undernutrition reported in different studies varies. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) growth charts, WHO reference 2007, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) growth charts, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), WHO reference 1995, Obesity Task Force (IOTF) criteria, and Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) growth charts are just a few of the growth references used in studies.

Children’s health

Undernutrition is most common among children under the age of five. 149 million children under the age of five will be stunted, 45 million will be wasted, and 38.9 million will be overweight or obese by 2020. The following year, undernutrition was connected to an estimated 45 percent of child fatalities. In South Asia, 16 percent of children under the age of five were reported to be moderately or seriously wasted. With over 20% wasted children, India has one of the highest rates of wasting in Asia. In African countries, however, the prevalence of undernutrition among children mal the age of five is substantially higher. The prevalence of chronic undernutrition among under-five children in East Africa was found to be 33.3 percent in a pooled analysis. Undernutrition among children under the age of five ranged from 21.9 percent in Kenya to 53 percent in Burundi.

In Tanzania, the frequency of stunting in children under the age of five ranged from 41% in the lowlands to 64.5 percent in the highlands.

Undernutrition by underweight and wasting was 11.5 percent and 2.5 percent in the lowland areas of Tanzania, respectively, and 22. percent and 1.4 percent in the highland areas. In South Sudan, the prevalence of stunting, underweight, and wasting in children under the age of five was 23.8 percent, 4.8 percent, and 2.3 percent, respectively.

Around the world, vitamin A deficiency affects one-third of children under the age of five, resulting in 670,000 deaths and 250,000–500,000 cases of blindness.

In Adults

1.9 billion persons were overweight or obese in June 2021, whereas 462 million adults were underweight. Iodine deficiency affected two billion individuals worldwide in 2017. Anemia, which is commonly caused by iron deficiency, affected 900 million women and children in 2020.

Undernutrition is more common in the elderly and women (in particular while pregnant or breastfeeding children under five years of age). Even in industrialised countries, undernutrition is becoming more prevalent among persons over the age of 65. Particularly among nursing home residents and patients in acute care hospitals. Undernutrition in the elderly is more often caused by physical, psychological, and social issues than by a lack of food. Reduced nutritional intake due to age-related chewing and swallowing issues, sensory deterioration, depression, an imbalanced gut microbiome, poverty, and loneliness are all key contributors to elderly undernutrition.

Recent Increase

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in global hunger. In 2015, 795 million people (about one out of every 10 persons on the planet) were undernourished. In 2020, one out of every nine people on the planet, or 820 million people, will be hungry.

These rises are partly due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. This continues to expose the flaws in today’s food and health systems. It has increased global hunger by contributing to food insecurity. At the same time, decreasing physical activity during lockdowns has contributed to an increase in overweight and obesity. Experts predicted that the pandemic will treble the number of people at risk of severe hunger by the end of the year in 2020.

COVID-19 is also expected to raise the prevalence of moderate and severe wasting by 14%. This will result in roughly 128,000 more fatalities among children under the age of five in 2020 alone, according to specialists. Although Covid-19 is less severe in children than in adults, undernutrition raises the chance of severe disease.

Man-made conflicts, climate change, and economic downturns are all key causes of hunger.

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