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Malnutrition is a condition that develops when the body does not get the proper amount of protein, energy (calories), vitamins, and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.
Poor eating habits or lack of available food may lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition occurs in children who are either undernourished or overnourished. Children who are overnourished may become overweight or obese, which may lead to long-term health problems and social stress.
Undernutrition is a consequence of consuming little energy and other essential nutrients, or using or excreting them more rapidly than they can be replaced. This state of malnutrition is often characterized by infections and disease. Malnutrition intensifies the effect of every disease. Severe malnutrition is most often found in developing countries. Rarely in the United States do children suffer from severe malnutrition that is not related to severe chronic illness. Deficiency in one nutrient occurs less often than deficiency in several nutrients. A child suffering from malnutrition is usually deficient in a variety of nutrients.
The leading cause of death in children in developing countries is protein-energy malnutrition. This type of malnutrition is the result of inadequate intake of protein and energy. Children who are already undernourished can suffer from protein-energy malnutrition when rapid growth, infection, or disease increases the need for protein and essential nutrients.
In the United States, nutritional deficiencies have generally been replaced by dietary imbalances or excesses
Risk of overnutrition is also increased by being more than 20 percent overweight, consuming a diet high in fat and salt, and taking high doses of:
Nutritional disorders can affect any system in the body and the senses of sight, taste, and smell. Malnutrition begins with changes in nutrient levels in blood and tissues. Alterations in enzyme levels, tissue abnormalities, and organ malfunction may be followed by illness and death.
Author Info: Mary K. Fyke, Crystal Heather Kaczkowski MSc., Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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