Childhood Malnutrition: Causes and Detection

Learn how to detect and prevent childhood malnutrition, as well as how to deal with it in time.
Childhood Malnutrition: Causes and Detection

Last update: 25 July, 2018

In this day and age, fighting against childhood malnutrition is still important, as it affects the lives of millions of children around the world. This is especially true in impoverished countries and homes with limited resources.

However, there are many myths regarding childhood malnutrition. This is due to a common lack of knowledge among the general population.

Unfortunately, there are several misconceptions and biases regarding malnutrition.  

Biases regarding childhood malnutrition

Many believe that being thin is the main characteristic of childhood malnutrition. However, how thin a child is doesn’t determine whether he or she suffers from malnutrition

In fact, children who are overweight can also suffer from malnutrition. So, while there is a certain correlation between malnutrition and thinness in most cases, it’s definitely not the rule.

Childhood Malnutrition: Causes and Detection

When a child’s weight and muscle mass don’t correlate the way they should with the child’s height, this can be an indication of a case of childhood malnutrition.

What is childhood malnutrition?

Childhood malnutrition is a pathology that occurs when the human body doesn’t receive sufficient nutrients. This is a problem in many countries and regions that suffer from extreme poverty. In these areas, many don’t have the economic means to satisfy their nutritional needs.

Weight loss isn’t the only symptom of malnutrition, nor is it a condition in its diagnosis. However, it’s something we need to look at when caring for our children’s health.

Malnutrition as a disease is the body’s response to a lack of nutrients that are essential for the optimal function of vital processes. A healthy diet doesn’t just have to do with quantity.

For example, a person can consume large quantities of food, but at the same time be lacking in protein. In this case, the child’s weight may very well be within or above a normal range. However, he or she can still suffer symptoms of malnutrition such as anemia.

Causes of childhood malnutrition

When external, non-genetic factors such as extreme poverty and food crisis are not present, then other factors may be to blame.

Below is a list of other possibilities that can lead to childhood malnutrition:

  • Inadequate diet: A unbalanced diet that is lacking in foods that provide the body with essential nutrients can lead to childhood malnutrition.
  • Eating disorders: Anorexia and bulimia can appear at a young age, even during childhood.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases: These diseases impede the correct absorption of the nutrients found in foods.
  • Metabolic diseases: These diseases involve the abnormal functioning of the processes that metabolize and utilize nutrients.

When should I be concerned about my child’s weight?

Only a doctor can determine if your child’s weight is inadequate and detect a possible case of nutrition. Your child’s pediatrician will evaluate the proper body mass for your child’s height and age.

Some cases of childhood malnutrition can produce very clear symptoms. However, most cases are less clear in regard to their origin. Any suspicion of malnutrition can only be confirmed by a medical professional.

Symptoms to look out for: 

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Apathy
Childhood Malnutrition: Causes and Detection

How can I know if my child is suffering from malnutrition?

The best way to determine if one of your children is suffering from childhood malnutrition is to take him or her to see a doctor. By conducting clinical tests, a medical professional will be able to evaluate your child’s overall health in detail.

The doctor will also be able to detect the origin of your child’s symptoms. Remember that anemia, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and other conditions can be the cause of malnutrition.

The importance of detecting childhood malnutrition

During childhood, nutrition plays a fundamental role in the proper development of the child’s body. This is the most important stage when it comes to a person’s nutritional needs.

If childhood malnutrition goes untreated, it can lead to chronic malnutrition. This is especially serious in children because it affects the normal development of important aspects of the human body.

This condition results in even more chronic issues. These include physical issues related to growth and the system. At the same time, it includes mental issues regarding a child’s optimal intelligence.

Therefore, it isn’t only the child’s health that is at risk when it comes to childhood malnutrition. It can also limit the child’s academic performance and his or her future success as an adult .

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Moskowitz, L., & Weiselberg, E. (2017). Anorexia Nervosa/Atypical Anorexia Nervosa. Current problems in pediatric and adolescent health care47(4), 70–84.
  • Amador, M., Bacallao, J., Hermelo, M., Fernández-Regalado, R., & Tolon, C. (1976). Indice energiá/proteína: su utilidad en el diagnóstico de distintas formas de mala nutrición [Energy/protein index: its use in the diagnosis of different forms of malnutrition]. Revista cubana de medicina tropical28(3), 127–132.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.