Undernutrition

Childhood obesity is an important and much talked about topic, however, at the opposite end of the spectrum, some children can suffer from undernutrition. In this section, you will find information about undernutrition, its common causes and how it can be managed.

What is undernutrition?

Undernutrition happens when a child’s food intake does not provide sufficient energy and nutrients to support their growth and development. Children can be affected by under nutrition in a number of ways; for example, they may be underweight for their age, too short for their age and/or deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.1 Undernutrition may be related to an underlying illness or disease— in these cases it is referred to as disease-related malnutrition.

If you have any concerns, please discuss these with your healthcare professional.

Reference

  1. Stratton RS, Green CJ and Elia M. Disease-related malnutrition: an evidence-based approach to treatment. CABI Publishing; Cambridge 2003, pp1-9.

What causes undernutrition?

The underlying causes of under nutrition can vary greatly and some examples are listed below:

  • Increased nutritional requirements – some children may have high nutritional requirements, which mean that they may find it difficult to meet their nutritional needs through their diet alone. For example following surgery or during illness.
  • Impaired digestion and absorption - in these instances the child’s diet may be adequate, but they may not be able to fully digest and absorb the food they eat. This may be accompanied by symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating, flatulence and weight loss.1 For further information, refer to our section on Tummy Troubles.
  • Reduced appetite/intake – the causes of this are varied and can range from fussy eating right through to the side-effects of medication or illness.

If you have any concerns, please discuss these with your healthcare professional.

Reference

  1. Webster-Gandy J et al. (Eds). Oxford Handbook of Nutritional Dietetics. Oxford University Press; Oxford 2012, pp578-579.

How do I know if my toddler is at risk?

Weighing and measuring your toddler at appropriate intervals is a good way to make sure your child is growing at a healthy rate. For toddlers who are generally well with no known illness, from the age of 12 months, measuring their weight every three months is sufficient.1,2 However, in some situations, or where there are concerns about a child’s weight gain, growth or general health, more frequent and additional measurements maybe necessary.

If you have any concerns, please discuss these with your healthcare professional.

How is undernutrition managed?

The exact approach your healthcare professional will take when managing your toddler’s undernutrition will depend on the underlying cause. For further information on managing undernutrition, refer to our section on Nutritional Support.

If you have any concerns, please discuss these with your healthcare professional.

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RXANI130244e Date of preparation: February 2014