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Types of malnutrition

(go to Outline)

Malnutrition is a group of conditions in children and adults generally related to poor quality or insufficient quantity of nutrient intake, absorption, or utilization.

There are two major types of malnutrition:

  • Protein-energy malnutrition - resulting from deficiencies in any or all nutrients
  • Micronutrient deficiency diseases - resulting from a deficiency of specific micronutrients

Protein-energy malnutrition

There are three types of protein-energy malnutrition in children:

Type Appearance Cause
Acute malnutrition Wasting or thinness Acute inadequate nutrition leading to rapid weight loss or failure to gain weight normally
Chronic malnutrition Stunting or shortness Inadequate nutrition over long period of time leading to failure of linear growth
Acute and chronic malnutrition Underweight A combination measure, therefore, it could occur as a result of wasting, stunting, or both

These forms of protein-energy malnutrition in children can be pictured like this:

Wasting and stunting are very different forms of malnutrition. Stunting is chronic and its causative factors are poorly understood. Stunting usually does not pose an immediate threat to life and is relatively common in many populations in less-developed countries. This is not to say that it is unimportant, just less important than wasting in humanitarian emergencies. Wasting results from an acute shortage of food, is reversible with refeeding, and has a relatively high mortality rate. For these reasons, wasting is the highest priority form of malnutrition in humanitarian emergencies.