Malnutrition: what if you were concerned?

Malnutrition: what if you were concerned?

Eating too fatty or too sweet, having vitamin or mineral deficiencies… Malnutrition, the result of a dietary imbalance, is a condition which can have serious consequences on health. What is malnutrition? Who are the people at risk? What are the symptoms ? And the consequences on the body? Explanations.

The state of malnutrition is defined by unsuitable and unbalanced food intake, leading to consequences on the health and proper functioning of the body. But contrary to popular belief, malnutrition does not only concern undernutrition and it should not be confused with famine. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines malnutrition as “deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s energy and/or nutrient intake1. In other words, we speak of malnutrition when the intake of calories, macronutrients (proteins, lipids and carbohydrates) and nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are excessive or deficient.

What are the disorders linked to malnutrition?

This state encompasses different issues:


We speak of undernutrition when caloric intake does not meet the individual’s needs: they do not eat their fill and do not meet their needs for essential nutrients. According to the WHO, this can lead to stunted growth (low height for age) in children, wasting, i.e. low weight for height, underweight, low weight for age.

Dietary deficiencies.

We speak of deficiencies in proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals when food intake fails to cover essential needs, leading to serious deficits in these essential elements. This hinders the proper functioning of the body, disrupts the functioning of organs and creates the basis for various diseases., explains Florence Foucaut, dietitian-nutritionist. These deficiency states can be caused by an insufficient or poorly diversified diet.


It occurs when the person consumes more calories than necessary for their age, size and physical activity. This leads to weight gain. “Ultimately, overeating can lead to overweight, obesity and the development of diet-related non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.specifies Florence Foucaut.

Who are the people affected by malnutrition?

Malnutrition can affect everyone, adults as well as children, adolescents and the elderly, as well as residents of favored or developing countries.

According to WHO, 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight, while 462 million are underweight, 41 million children under 5 are overweight or obese, while 159 million suffer of stunted growth and 50 million do not have enough to eat1.

In Europe, according to Inserm figures, 47.3% of French adults are obese or overweight.2 while undernutrition would affect 2 million individuals, of which 400,000 are elderly people at home and 270,000 in nursing homes. Malnutrition can also affect people with chronic illnesses. Thus 30% of hospitalized people and 40% of cancer patients3 are victims of malnutrition.

What are the symptoms of malnutrition?

It is important to quickly identify the symptoms to remedy them before malnutrition causes health problems. These may concern you directly or affect someone close to you.

Food intake

The affected person eats less than usual, excludes foods from their diet, or even skips meals / the person eats much more than usual at and outside of meals.


The affected person has unintentionally lost weight over the past three months. This weight loss is accompanied by muscle wasting / The person concerned has unintentionally gained a lot of weight over the last three months.


The person concerned says they are very tired, both physically and intellectually. She is having trouble sleeping. “She copes less with periods of stress, is easily irritable and experiences problems with concentration and memorization, explains Florence Foucaut. His vigilance is also reduced. Furthermore, she may feel pain (muscular and/or joint).”. Finally, malnutrition is characterized by a drop in immune defenses: the body, weakened, is less resistant to external attacks. It can also slow recovery and healing of wounds. “All of these symptoms are due to the fact that the body is not receiving enough calories and/or nutrients to function properly. It may be a deficiency of iron in particular because its deficiency causes anemia, as well as of vitamin C, the deficiency of which can lead to the development of scurvy.explains Raphaël Gruman, dietitian-nutritionist.

What are the causes of malnutrition?

The factors of malnutrition are multiple. In the world, the main causes of undernourishment are to be found in “conflicts, climate change, lack of access to drinking water, poverty linked to economic shocks and inequalities” lists the Action Against Hunger association. While overeating, mainly in developed countries, is caused by overexposure to fatty, sugary and processed foods.

But certain situations can promote malnutrition. “In the case of undernutrition, there may be digestive disorders and a history of digestive surgery, illnesses such as cancer, depressive syndrome, cognitive disorders and/or dementia, as well as dental disorders, in particular. especially among the elderly, difficulty moving around, whether to go shopping or to prepare meals., specifies Raphaël Gruman. “In the case of overeating, food compulsions, taking medications, such as cortisone which increases appetite, a depressive syndrome, etc. may be involved. Finally, in both cases there may be an economic factor. financial difficulties, people may be led to buy less food, resulting in a diet lower than their needs, or to turn to inexpensive products with low nutritional value (crisps, biscuits, etc.)”completes Florence Foucaut.

What are the consequences of malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a condition that can have serious repercussions on health and fitness.

In children, malnutrition can be responsible for stunted growth (a vitamin D deficiency, for example, can cause rickets), bone deficiency with risks of fractures, cognitive disorders such as difficulty concentrating, “learning and memorization, extreme fatigue linked to anemia, a drop in immune defenses”Raphaël Gruman list.

Overweight and obesity caused by malnutrition linked to overconsumption of food can promote the development of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disorders (high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, etc.), even cancers, ‘Sleep Apnea…

Undernutrition can cause muscle loss which can lead to fragility and increase the risk of falls and fractures. Malnutrition in general can be responsible for complicating already existing diseases. It also causes intense and generalized fatigue and can lead to depression.

When should you consult?

It may be useful to consult your GP to carry out an assessment in the following cases:

  • You have symptoms of intense fatigue, you often fall ill, you are very irritable, your sleep quality is poor;
  • You are overweight/underweight;
  • Your diet is not very diversified.

NO to diets, YES to WW!

What are the treatments for malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a condition that can be managed. Make an appointment with your attending physician. The first step will be to treat the underlying cause, if there is one. “A food quest follows in order to take stock of feeding difficulties, specifies Florence Foucaut. This can be carried out by your doctor or a dietician.“. The following medical examination makes it possible to diagnose malnutrition: measurement of weight and height, in children, analysis of the height and weight curves in the health record, examination of the muscles and muscular strength then prescription of biological examinations:

  • Albumin dosage which makes it possible to assess the severity of malnutrition: it is a protein produced by the liver, but also provided by certain foods, notably milk and eggs. It is the most used marker for the diagnosis or monitoring of malnutrition. A serum albumin level below 35 g/L is a criterion for malnutrition in adults, according to the High Authority of Health (HAS). Undernutrition is considered severe when this level falls below 30 g/l.4 ;
  • Analysis of the proper functioning of the liver and kidneys;
  • Check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies;
  • Research into inflammatory biomarkers that could explain malnutrition.

Then, the treatment consists of rebalancing…