Malnutrition is a disorder of your food intake. It occurs when a person eats too little or too much, or has an unbalanced diet. In most cases malnutrition means undernourishment, a lack of food and not enough calories. It is widespread in developing countries. On the other side obesity occurs in developed countries where people eat too much. According to the World Health Organization malnutrition is one of the greatest dangers of global health. Currently, about one billion people around the world do not have enough to eat.


When does malnutrition occur

Malnutrition happens when people lack nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Not enough proteins can have negative effects on a person’s growth and lead to physical problems. Vitamins are important for good health and the functioning of your body. A lack of them can cause major problems. Vitamin A deficiency may lead to eye problems and blindness. A lack of calcium leads to a bad growth of bones and teeth. Iron deficiency can affect the brain and lead to a lower IQ rate. It can make children less active and not able to concentrate.

Malnutrition increases the risk of diseases and weakens the immune system. It affects the transmission of viruses, including HIV. It is especially widespread among women, children and older people. Children can be at risk even before birth because they depend on the mother’s nutrition.

One in ten people around the world is malnourished. Eating disorders account for 60 million deaths a year, including six million children. It is the main cause of child mortality.

Malnourished child in Afghanistan

Malnourished child in Afghanistan - Capt. John Severns


Causes of malnutrition

One of the major causes of malnutrition in developing countries is famine and drought which lead to the unavailability of food. Many countries in the Third World to not have enough land to grow food on or do not know how to use it. They do not have the money to afford imported food. In other countries the government neglects the importance of agriculture and does not help famers.

In places with a lack of or dirty drinking water diseases, like diarrhea, lead to indigestion of food.

Digestive disorders may also be causes of malnutrition. People eat properly but their body cannot digest the food. In the Third World many mothers do not breastfeed their children, thus weakening the immune system.


Signs of malnutrition

  • tiredness and not enough energy
  • decaying teeth
  • poor growth
  • weight loss
  • fragile bones that break easily
  • weakening of muscles
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • depression



In developed countries obesity is the most widespread form of malnutrition. Obese people consume more calories than they need. This may lead to diabetes and contribute to heart problems and high blood pressure. Too many fats in your diet can lead to high  cholesterol levels.


Solutions and Treatment

One way to help avoid malnutrition is to enrich food with vitamins. For example, milk is enriched with Vitamin D. In Third World countries schools must try to teach children the right eating habits and emphasize eating vegetables and fruit. Governments and other institutions must do their part in educating the population to eat the right things. The World Health Organization and other groups try to help the poorest of these countries with financial aid and other support.

Old woman with osteoporosis

Old woman suffereing from osteoporosis - James Heilman, MD


Online Exercises



  • according to = as said by
  • account for = to be  responsible for
  • affect = have an influence on
  • afford = to have the money to buy something
  • agriculture = farming
  • aid = help
  • avoid = stop
  • billion = a thousand million
  • blood pressure = the power with which blood travels through  your body
  • brain = organ inside your head that controls how you feel and think
  • breastfeeding = to give a baby milk from its mother’s breast instead of from a bottle
  • cause = reason
  • cholesterol = chemical substance that is in your blood; too much of it can lead to heart problems
  • consume = take in
  • contribute = lead to
  • currently = at the moment
  • decay = to be damaged in a natural way
  • deficiency = not enough of something
  • depend on = need
  • developed countries = rich countries in Europe, North America, as well as Japan and Australia
  • developing countries = poor countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America
  • diabetes = disease in which there is too much sugar in your blood
  • diarrhea = illness in which waste comes out of your body in a watery form
  • digest = to change the food into substances your body can use
  • disorder = an illness that stops your body from working the way it should
  • dizziness = feeling unable to stand steadily
  • drought = long period of dry weather when there is not enough rainfall
  • emphasize = highlight, stress, call to attention
  • enrich = to make better
  • especially = above all
  • famine = a situation in which many people die  of hunger or have little food for a long time
  • food intake = what you eat
  • fragile = not strong
  • functioning = how something works
  • global = worldwide
  • government = people who rule a country
  • habit = routine ; what you do every day
  • including = also
  • increase = if something goes up
  • indigestion = pain that you get when you your stomach cannot break down the food and use it the way it should
  • iron = metal that is found in very small quantities in food and blood
  • lack = not enough, shortage of
  • major = important
  • malnourish = not having the right things to eat
  • mortality =  the number of deaths among a certain group of people in a year
  • muscle = pieces of flesh that you use to move things and which connect your bones together
  • neglect = not care about
  • nutrient = chemical or food that gives us what we need to survive
  • nutrition = food
  • obesity = being fat in an unhealthy way
  • occur = happen
  • physical = about the body
  • protein = a natural substance that is in meat, eggs and beans and that our body needs to grow in the right way
  • unavailability = when something does not exist
  • unbalanced diet = too much of the same kind of food
  • undernourishment = to be healthy and weak because you have not had enough to eat
  • weakening = to make weaker
  • weight loss = to lose weight
  • widespread = very common