Skip to main content

By Enise Kaya Urcan, MPharm, MS Candidate in Human Nutrition

Malnutrition is a serious condition defined as inadequate, unbalanced, or excessive nutrient and calorie consumption over time. Common signs of malnutrition are unintentional weight loss, lack of motivation to eat, feeling tired, getting sick often, reduced body functionality, slow growth, and putting on weight as expected in children (WHO, 2022). 

Who is at risk of malnutrition?

Anyone can be malnourished, but it is more common in the following conditions (Saunders et al., 2010):

· Having a long-term condition that causes a decrease in your appetite, weight, digestion, and nutrient absorption

· An eating disorder such as anorexia

· Mental health issues such as socially being isolated, coping with  

grief and loss, depression

· Environmental or physical issues that limit your mobility

· Limited access to food, low income, or poverty

· Having little knowledge of nutrition and cooking

Types of Malnutrition

Malnutrition includes 3 groups of conditions.

Undernutrition: In the United States, we have a “zero hunger” goal to end this type of malnutrition, especially for kids under five years of age. (United Nations, 2019). Although the main reason for undernutrition is insufficient intake of calories, other reasons such as health problems, alcoholism, depression, restricted diets, mobility problems, and economic limitations contribute to it. 

Overnutrition: Excessive fat accumulation in the body can increase the risk of having severe health problems. Diet-related diseases include cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol, and certain cancers. Individuals with obesity may still be malnourished due to their low intake of micronutrients and poor quality of foods (Freeman et al., 2020).

Micronutrient Related Malnutrition: Insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals causes micronutrient deficiencies. You need a small number of micronutrients that are essential for proper growth and development. The most common micronutrient deficiencies are iron, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium (CDC, 2022). Typical western-type diets include high-calorie, low-nutrient-processed foods, and fewer vegetables, and it is one of the primary reasons for micronutrient deficiencies (García-Montero et al., 2021).

When do you need to see a primary care provider?

· If continuous unintended weight loss for 3 to 6 months

· If always tired

· If signs of muscle weakness and loss of strength

· If sick often and weak immune system

· If problems with memory

· If depressed and sad without reason

For more information about malnutrition visit WHO


 1. Fact sheets – Malnutrition. WHO. (2022). Retrieved 20 February 2022, from

 2.   Freeman, A., & Aggarwal, M. (2022). JACC. Retrieved 21 February 2022, from

3. García-Montero, C., Fraile-Martínez, O., Gómez-Lahoz, A., Pekarek, L., Castellanos, A., & Noguerales-Fraguas, F. et al. (2021). Nutritional Components in Western Diet Versus Mediterranean Diet at the Gut Microbiota–Immune System Interplay. Implications for Health and Disease. Nutrients13(2), 699.

4. Goal 2 | Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2022). Retrieved 20 February 2022, from

 5. Malnutrition: causes and consequences. (2022). Retrieved 20 February 2022, from

 6. Micronutrient Surveillance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Retrieved 21 February 2022, from


Photo by Sarah Chai from Pexels, 2022