Causes of malnutrition
Malnutrition is caused by a lack of nutrients in your diet.
This is either due to an inadequate diet or problems absorbing nutrients from food.
Medical conditions that can lead to malnutrition include:
Some types of medication may increase your risk of developing malnutrition. More than 250 types of medicine are known to disrupt the body’s ability to absorb and then break down nutrients.
You may also be at risk of becoming malnourished if your body has an increased demand for energy – for example, if it's trying to heal itself after major surgery, or a serious injury such as a burn, or if you experience involuntary movements, such as a tremor.
Physical factors can also contribute to malnutrition. For example:
- if your teeth are in a poor condition, or if dentures don't fit properly, eating can be difficult or painful
- you may lose your appetite as a result of losing your sense of smell and taste
- you may have a physical disability or other impairment that makes it difficult for you to cook or shop for food yourself
Social situations that can contribute to malnutrition include:
- living alone and being socially isolated
- having limited knowledge about nutrition or cooking
- reduced mobility
- alcohol or drug dependency
- low income or poverty
In the UK, the most common causes of malnutrition in children are long-term health conditions that:
- cause lack of appetite
- disrupt the normal process of digestion
- cause the body to have an increased demand for energy
Examples of these types of conditions include childhood cancers, congenital heart disease, cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy.
In the UK, malnutrition as a result of inadequate food intake is rare, although it may occur if a child is neglected, living in poverty or being abused. If you're concerned that a child may be at risk of neglect or abuse, call the NSPCC child protection helpline on 0808 800 5000.
Sometimes, children become malnourished because they avoid eating due to issues with their body image.
Page last reviewed: 21/01/2015
Next review due: 21/01/2017