Malnutrition vs. Undernutrition

What’s the difference between malnutrition and undernutrition? How does hidden hunger factor in? These are questions we encounter regularly. We’ve answered them here for quick reference.

By Kim Saam

The World Health Organization defines nutrition as: the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs. Good nutrition – an adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity – is a cornerstone of good health. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.”(i)

Malnutrition is an umbrella term for poor nutrition, whether that is excess consumption of nutrients (overnutrition) or inadequate consumption or absorption of one or more nutrients (undernutrition).(ii)

Because the period from conception through age five is absolutely critical for proper nutrition to support growth and development, Vitamin Angels focuses on addressing chronic undernutrition (or "stunting") – inadequate nutrition over long periods of time (including poor maternal nutrition and poor infant and young child feeding practices) and/or repeated infections – among  these populations. It should be noted, however, that some of the children we serve suffer from both chronic undernutrition and periodic acute undernutrition (or "wasting") – a rapid deterioration in nutritional status over a short period of time. (iii)

Children suffering from undernutrition often show no visible signs or symptoms, which is why it is sometimes called hidden hunger.

Vitamin Angels generally applies the term malnutrition in lieu of undernutrition as it is more commonly recognized and understood by the general public. 

Sources:

(i) http://www.who.int/topics/nutrition/en/
(ii) http://www.unicef.org/lac/Nutrition_Glossary_(3).pdf
(iii) http://www.unicef.org/lac/Nutrition_Glossary_(3).pdf

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