hungry child

Malnutrition: Who is at Risk?

The body is a complex organism that processes combinations of food nutrients for the support of muscles, bone and tissue. Without proper foods, or too much of certain vitamins or minerals, the system is thrown out of kilter. Conditions such as anorexia nervosa or a binge eating disorder can cause malnutrition diseases. The proper balance of food substances necessary for your body’s optimum health is called “homeostasis;” long-term imbalances result in malnutrition.

Chronic diarrhea, excessive bleeding, addiction to drugs, excessive sweating, infections, and kidney failure can contribute to undernourishment. In these situations, this is usually due to a lack of absorption of nutrients into the system. Under-eating in anorexia nervosa in teenagers and binge eating disorders in depressed individuals can trigger these conditions.

Infants and Failure to Thrive

Infants can be affected with malnutrition, a situation known as “failure to thrive.” This occurs when a child does not develop normally because he/she is improperly fed, or unable to assimilate the nutrients necessary to gain weight and develop. Failure to thrive is most common in premature babies, but full term babies can also be affected. The first two years of life are the most critical for physical and cognitive development. Poor nutrition during this time may have life-long effects. Irritability and apathy are symptoms that affected babies may exhibit. They might also be unable to walk, sit up, or talk at the expected “normal” age.

Increased Nutritional Requirements During Pregnancy

Pregnant women are at risk for inadequate food absorption and intake. Because they are supporting their own body plus that of the developing fetus, they have increased nutritional needs. Near to birth, the body also prepares for breastfeeding, or lactation. Women with anemia, diabetes, or alcoholism are more at risk for exacerbated conditions during pregnancy. Inadequate nutritional intake can result in stunted fetal development.

Poor Diet in the Elderly

Elderly people commonly suffer from a poor diet and vitamin deficiency. Contributing factors include mental setbacks, such as loss of memory, confusion, loneliness, and depression. Access to quality nutrition may also be affected by inability to get around easily and a fixed income.

Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

People that consume foods solely from the plant kingdom, “vegans,” are subject to protein deficiencies. One way for vegans to ensure adequate protein consumption is to eat a healthy dose of legumes or soy products containing protein. Vegans are also at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, which causes a type of anemia. Side effects are numbness or tingling, and decreased mental acuity. Vitamin B12 is abundant in liver, clams, mussels, salmon, chicken, beef, turkey, and eggs. In a vegetarian diet, fortified breakfast cereals are a good source of vitamin B12.

Vegetarians that eat eggs and dairy products are called “ovo-lacto vegetarians.” While overall, ovo-lacto vegetarians are generally healthier than meat-eaters, they are at risk for iron deficiency anemia, and should take an iron supplement after consultation with their doctor.

Who is at Risk for Overnutrition?

Over-nourishment occurs from overeating, excessive use of vitamin and mineral supplements, and lack of proper activity. A binge eating disorder predisposes one to overindulgence in a single substance. A binge eater may consume whole bags of potato chips in one sitting risking hypertension. Or, high cholesterol levels can result from eating too many fats and simple carbohydrates, such as several dozen donuts at a time.

Health problems that can result from a high protein, low carbohydrate diet include kidney damage, osteoporosis, gout, stomach and intestinal problems, and cardiovascular disease. Those at risk for these conditions include body builders, fad dieters, and those basing their diet on protein supplements, such as protein shakes. Understandi’ng how to balance the substances we put into our bodies is key to preventing unnecessary health problems.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *