Malnutrition, MAL noo TRIHSH uhn, is an unhealthy condition caused by a poor or inappropriate diet or by the body’s inability to absorb or use nutrients. Primary malnutrition results when the body gets too much food, not enough food, or the wrong kinds of food. Secondary malnutrition occurs when, because of disease, the body cannot use nutrients even though they are present in the food.
There are a number of types of malnutrition. Obesity and starvation are extreme forms of malnutrition. Obesity occurs when people eat much more food than they need. Undernutrition or starvation occurs when a person does not get enough food or does not consume enough of a particular nutrient or nutrients. Symptoms of undernutrition and starvation include cramps, diarrhea, weakness, and weight loss. Protein-energy malnutrition, also called protein-calorie malnutritution, occurs when the diet is low in both proteins and calories. This condition is called marasmus if the diet is particularly low in calories. It is called kwashiorkor if the diet is especially low in proteins.
Malnutrition caused by a low intake of vitamins may lead to vitamin deficiencies. Various diseases result from deficiencies of different vitamins. Malnutrition may also be due to mineral deficiencies. For example, lack of iron or copper can cause an abnormal condition of the blood called anemia. Social and economic conditions as well as natural disasters such as flooding and drought may produce malnutrition. Poverty, war, disease, and ignorance regarding a balanced diet also cause countless cases of malnutrition.
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