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
- Reduced muscle mass
- 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:
- 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.