What are the consequences of malnutrition?

Malnutrition affects every system in the body and always results in increased vulnerability to illness, increased complications and in very extreme cases even death.

Immune system
Reduced ability to fight infection

Muscles

  • Inactivity and reduced ability to work, shop, cook and self-care
  • Inactivity may also lead to pressure ulcers and blood clots
  • Falls
  • Reduced ability to cough may predispose to chest infections and pneumonia
  • Heart failure

Impaired wound healing

Kidneys
Inability to regulate salt and fluid can lead to over-hydration or dehydration

Brain
Malnutrition causes apathy, depression, introversion, self-neglect and deterioration in social interactions

Reproduction
Malnutrition reduces fertility and if present during pregnancy can predispose to problems with diabetes, heart disease and stroke in the baby in later life.

Impaired temperature regulation
This can lead to hypothermia

Consequences of malnutrition in children and adolescents

  • Growth failure and stunting
  • Delayed sexual development
  • Reduced muscle mass and strength
  • Impaired intellectual development
  • Rickets
  • Increased lifetime risk of osteoporosis

Consequences of specific micronutrient deficiencies

There are very many of these and so only the commonest are given below:

  • Iron deficiency can cause anaemia
  • Zinc deficiency causes skin rashes and decreased ability to fight infection
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anaemia and problems with nerves
  • Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults
  • Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy
  • Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness
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