15 Warning Signs of Malnutrition in Children
Some things can happen in a parent’s life that cause them to wonder if their child is suffering is suffering from malnutrition, such as the child being a picky eater or having a limited budget. In the US, nutritional deficiencies are usually caused by dietary imbalances or excesses, which are associated with several of the leading causes of disability and death. Overnutrition is the result of consuming too many foods lacking the necessary vitamins and minerals, eating too much in general, not enough exercise as play or movement, or taking too many dietary supplements and/or vitamins. People with digestive diseases, such as celiac disease, or conditions that don’t allow for the absorption of food properly, can also suffer from malnutrition. Children with cystic fibrosis, for example, have difficulty absorbing nutrients because the disease affects the pancreas, which is in charge of producing enzymes required for digestion.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition occurs when a person’s diet lacks the required nutrients for overall health, regular bodily functions, as well as their growth. Malnutrition has been known to affect every aspect and system of the human body, often depending on the severity and cause of the malnutrition. Most often, mild to moderate cases will have no symptoms – or very mild ones that go unnoticed or can be written off as symptoms of something else.
Not getting enough of a specific nutrient is known as a nutritional deficiency, which is a form of malnutrition and doesn’t necessarily mean the person affected will become seriously ill. The most common nutritional deficiency in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia. They also estimate that as many as 2 billion people, worldwide, suffer from a nutritional deficiency of iron, vitamin, A, and zinc.
Undernourished children will often have weakened immune systems, increasing their chances for contracting illness. Poorly nourished teenageers, including those with an eating disorder, will have an increased risk of osteoporosis. With severe malnutrition, heart and other organ problems arise. If left untreated, it can lead to physical or mental disability and sometimes death.
Children suffering from malnourishment will often have reduced acuity with the five senses, be thin or bloated, listless, have weakened immune systems, and may also be short for their age. They may also have problems with mood swings, anxiety, and other psychiatric symptoms.
Other physical symptoms include:
• bruising easily
• changes in skin pigmentation
• pale, thick, and/or dry skin
• thin, brittle hair that pulls out easily
• achy joints
• swollen or shrivelled and cracked tongue
• bleeding gums
• night blindness
• increased sensitivity to light
• soft bones that are tender
• muscle twitches
• goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
• fatigue, dizziness
• loss of reflexes and coordination
If your child displays these symptoms, consult with a physician, particularly if: there is a change in bodily functions (impairment), the child faints; the child is rapidly losing hair; the child isn’t growing; the child is very underweight; a female child at the age of puberty doesn’t start, or stops, menstruating.