Malnutrition and undernutrition are problems that plague both developing countries and industrialised nations. People in developing countries often have too little food available. Consequently, their calorie intake is deficient, and they suffer from undernutrition. This calorie deficiency goes hand in hand with an inadequate supply of vital nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, so that malnutrition leads to undernutrition. Many children, for example, suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness. A supply of zinc is also crucial. Zinc deficiency is manifested as growth disturbances or an increased susceptibility to infections. An insufficient intake of calories and protein leads to kwashiorkor or marasmus. The result is muscle atrophy, accumulation of fluid in the body (kwashiorkor) or a distended abdomen (marasmus).
The situation is somewhat different in industrialised nations. Even if an individual's body weight is normal and he or she may even be struggling to shed a few extra pounds, a nutrient deficiency can still occur if that person has a one-sided and unbalanced diet. Moreover, some diseases, for instance severe intestinal diseases, can result in nutrients not being absorbed in sufficient quantities by the body, leading to malnutrition. The elderly are particularly at risk, because they often have little appetite or even chewing and swallowing problems. If they don't eat enough, the result can be undernutrition and malnutrition.
The figures are alarming. According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around 842 million people worldwide were undernourished in 2013. Every year around 3.1 million children die as a result of undernutrition and malnutrition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition resulting from undernutrition is the biggest risk factor for human health, particularly in children. It is estimated that 33 million people in Europe are at risk of malnutrition, especially the elderly and sick.
If you have an unbalanced diet over a long period, signs of undernutrition or malnutrition can soon develop, such as fatigue, lack of drive or weakness. Your body can then no longer defend itself adequately against infections. You will also need more time to recover from diseases.