Malnutrition is the condition where the body doesn’t get enough food to eat or enough nutrients needed to develop and work correctly. There are a number of causes of malnutrition:

  • Poor diet – Not eating enough or not eating the right foods.
  • Problems with digestion
  • Malabsorption – body is not able to absorb enough nutrients to be healthy
  • Problems that cause the body to lose nutrients (vomiting or diarrhea).
  • Swallowing problems.
  • Upper gastrointestinal tract problems such as GERD.
  • Certain medical conditions:
    • Failure to Thrive
    • Crohn’s Disease
    • Ulcerative Colitis
    • Cystic Fibrosis
    • Short Bowel Syndrome


Some of the symptoms of malnutrition include:

  • Loss of fat
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Depression
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Tiredness
  • Stunted growth


Malnutrition is often noticeable by a doctor. During physical exams, the doctor will evaluate the overall appearance: skin, muscle tone, amount of body fat, height and weight, and eating habits. The doctor will look for normal development and normal growth rate. Doctors use formulas and a growth chart to determine if a child is malnourished and to what degree.

Children who are severely malnourished typically experience slow behavioral development. Even when treated, there may be many long-term effects with impairments in mental function and digestive problems. Disease related testing may also be done to determine the underlying cause of the malnourishment.


Treatment should include a feeding program with a specially planned diet, possibly additional nutritional supplements, and should treat any underlying conditions or illness that may be contributing to the malnutrition. There are several formulas available that are pre-digested in order to make the nutrients easier to absorb. If a child is not able to eat or drink enough calories, a nasogastric tube, G-tube, or G-J tube may be used. A regimen of Total Parental Nutrition, in which the child is fed through a feeding tube, is another way to provide nutrients.


Malnutrition is mainly caused by not eating the right balance of nutrients from major food groups. These include:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Protein (beef, chicken, fish, beans, etc.)
  • Dairy (milk, cheese, etc.)
  • Fats (margarine, olive oil, etc.)

Consider meeting with one of our dieticians for a nutritional consult. Call (865) 546-3998 to schedule an appointment.

1975 Town Center Blvd,
Knoxville, TN 37922

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1975 Town Center Blvd,
Knoxville, TN 37922

Site Map