Food provides us with essential nutrients, proteins, vitamins, and minerals that help us stay active, grow, and live life to the fullest. A well-balanced diet is crucial for our overall health. However, malnutrition facts reveal that in many countries, nutritious and healthy food is too expensive. It’s often inconvenient, unsafe, and unavailable, which leads to the problem of malnutrition.
Malnutrition is a global problem caused by dysfunctional food systems. Unfortunately, it’s also the leading cause of disease and death in the world. Moreover, the levels of malnourishment are sky-rocketing, affecting millions of people on a global scale and creating a world health crisis. It’s time to raise awareness on this matter and support the fight against malnutrition.
The Top 10 Malnutrition Statistics and Facts
- Malnutrition is the leading cause of poor health and death in the world.
- Gut-bacteria-altering dietary supplements could help treat malnutrition.
- About 18 million US children are currently facing the risk of hunger.
- COVID-19 increased the risk of wasting for 6.7 million children under five in 2020.
- About 10.4 million African children could suffer from food insecurity in 2021.
- There’s a link between malnutrition and increased rates of COVID-19 fatalities.
- According to the WHO, malnutrition may lead to a global health crisis.
- Over 30% of hospitalized patients in the US are malnourished.
- About 2.8 million Americans have a binge eating disorder.
- Malnutrition is common among ACS patients and obese individuals.
If you want to learn more about the causes, types, and consequences of malnutrition and undernutrition, keep reading.
Overall Malnutrition Facts
Despite many advances in the food and agriculture industry, malnutrition remains one of the major global problems, still affecting millions worldwide.
Let’s dive into the most exciting malnutrition facts in 2021, and learn about how widespread it is, who it affects, and what can be done to contain it.
1. Malnutrition occurs when an individual consumes too much or too little essential nutrients.
(Medical News Today)
What causes malnutrition?
Contrary to popular belief, malnutrition refers to a person’s quality of diet, not its quantity. Not giving your body enough nutrients (or the right balance of nutrients) causes malnutrition, and this can lead to severe health issues.
2. The term malnutrition refers to 3 groups of health conditions.
People often associate the term malnutrition with hunger and undernourishment. However, it can also refer to people who are obese and malnourished. Here are the three groups of conditions that the term malnutrition addresses:
- undernutrition, which includes wasting, stunting, and underweight
- micronutrient-related malnutrition, which includes a lack or excess of the essential vitamins and minerals
- overweight, obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases, like cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke
All these types of malnutrition are equally dangerous.
3. Overeating is also a form of malnutrition.
Most people wouldn’t connect malnutrition and obesity. Typically, it’s the hunger that’s associated with the term. However, overeating and overnutrition are also common causes of malnutrition.
This is because, despite excessive food intake, overweight and obese individuals are often deficient in micronutrients and develop various health problems:
- Body fat accumulation
- Disruption of hunger-regulating hormones
- Increased risk of diseases (heart disease, diabetes, stroke, etc.)
- Brain function impairment and mental decline in older adults
- Nausea (due to reaching the upper limit of your stomach’s capacity)
- Excessive gas and bloating (especially after consuming spicy and fatty food, soda, carbonated drinks, and even some vegetables, whole grains, and beans)
- Sluggishness after overeating (mainly due to reactive hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by a quick blood sugar drop after a big meal)
4. There are numerous symptoms of malnutrition.
(Medical News Today)
One of the earliest symptoms of malnutrition is a lack of appetite. Other symptoms malnourished people exhibit include delayed wound healing, feeling cold, tired, and irritable. Additionally, the symptoms include getting sick more often and taking longer to heal, as well as a higher incidence of complications after surgery.
Those who are malnourished may also have difficulty breathing and may even experience heart failure. Symptoms in malnourished children usually include a lack of growth and loss of weight, as well as learning difficulties due to slow behavioral and intellectual development.
5. The signs of malnutrition depend on its type.
It’s crucial to recognize the early signs of malnutrition to be able to provide appropriate help. Depending on the type, the signs of malnutrition can include loss of muscle mass, fat, and weight. The signs of undernutrition include hollow cheeks, sunken eyes, dry hair and skin, inability to concentrate, depression, and anxiety. Conversely, the main signs of overnutrition are overweight and obesity.
6. Low income is just one of the numerous causes of this health issue.
(Medical News Today)
Malnutrition and poverty are closely related since a significant number of people can’t afford healthy food. Some other malnutrition causes include poor dietary choices such as consuming fast food, difficulties in obtaining food, and numerous health and mental health conditions.
7. Every country in the world is affected by some form of malnutrition.
Not a single country in the world is spared from this health crisis, and fighting it is a big challenge. People who are at the highest risk of being affected by malnutrition are women, infants, children, adolescents, and the elderly, but other demographics can be affected by it, too. Poverty also dramatically amplifies the risks associated with malnutrition.
8. Malnutrition is the leading cause of poor health and death in the world.
(The Guardian) (Al Jazeera)
Here are some daunting malnutrition and world hunger facts. One in nine people (or 820 million) worldwide were hungry in 2020. Moreover, 11 people die of hunger every minute today.
On the other hand, one in three people were obese or overweight in 2020.
One of the main reasons for malnutrition is the lack of access to healthy, nutritious food and agriculture that favors calories over nutritional value.
Many people worldwide can’t afford healthy food and are forced to resort to processed food devoid of essential nutrients, risking malnutrition. This is concerning since malnutrition can cause various health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.
9. WHO adopted a strategic plan to reduce malnutrition in Africa in 2019.
When it comes to malnutrition in Africa, statistics show that the number of malnourished people has increased in the past decade. The number of undernourished sub-Saharan Africans rose from 181 million in 2010 to a staggering 222 million in 2016.
Furthermore, malnutrition statistics by the World Health Organization indicate that the obesity rates are also increasing. This is likely due to the prevalence of cheap food with high salt, fat, and energy content and low nutrient quality.
In hopes to end hunger by 2030, the WHO Member States decided to take action against malnutrition in Africa by increasing investments, supporting research collaborations, and developing and implementing a resource mobilization plan.
10. Gut-bacteria-altering dietary supplements could help treat malnutrition.
Ready-to-use supplementary food is a standard malnutrition treatment. However, recent research found that certain supplements may be a more effective treatment technique.
Supplements containing some of the 15 key bacteria scientists identified could help repair the disrupted gut microbiome and offer a more permanent recovery from malnutrition.
Despite having 20% fewer calories than standard food treatments, special supplements they created, such as MDCF-2, promote faster growth and weight gain. This supplement is a complex mixture of soy, banana, chickpea, peanut flour, and oils that promote healthy bacteria growth.
Malnutrition in Children
Consuming nutritious foods is essential for everyone, but especially for children. Adequate nutrition ensures a robust immune system, healthy growth and organ formation and function, and neurological and cognitive development.
Let’s dive into the most relevant children malnutrition statistics for 2021.
11. Undernutrition begins in the womb.
The first 1,000 days — from conception to the child’s second birthday — are the most important for their development, and nutrition plays a crucial role here, assuring long-term benefits for the child’s well-being.
12. Poor care of women and children is an underlying cause of child malnutrition.
The causes of malnutrition in children intertwine across all stages of malnutrition. They start with the diets of mothers and children and go all the way to affordability and decision-making. The food systems — everything that happens from farm to mouth — provide children with too much of the food they don’t need and too little of the food they actually need.
13. Around 66 million primary school children go to school hungry.
Out of this number, 23 million are in Africa. Studies have shown that without food and nutrition, children have difficulties learning, which affects their future.
14. Globally, close to 200 million children under 5 suffer from stunting or wasting.
The malnutrition statistics also reveal that an additional 40 million children under five are overweight, and their number keeps rising rapidly, even in low-income countries.
15. Every 10 seconds, a child dies from hunger.
(The World Counts)
Moreover, 3.1 million children under the age of five die every year because of malnutrition and hunger. That’s almost half of all deaths of children younger than five.
16. About 18 million US children are currently facing the risk of hunger.
(University of Dayton Magazine)
According to malnutrition statistics from 2021, the coronavirus pandemic was one of the leading causes of food insecurity in the US the past year.
The pandemic hit millions of Americans economically, making them struggle to provide nutritious food for their families and elevating the risk of illnesses such as anemia, asthma, etc.
17. Malnutrition and obesity are quite common among US children and teenagers.
Between 2017 and 2018, 19.3% (14.4 million) of adolescents and children (2–19) were affected by obesity. About 13.4% of children were 2–5 years old, 20.3% were 6–11 years old, and 21.2% were 12–19 years old.
Obesity is more prevalent in Hispanic (25.6%) than in Black (24.2%), White (16.1%), and Asian (8.7%) children.
18. COVID-19 increased the risk of wasting for 6.7 million children under five in 2020.
World malnutrition statistics estimated that 80% of children struck by COVID-19-related household poverty and food insecurity would come from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
According to child malnutrition death statistics, this increase in malnutrition could lead to over 10,000 additional child deaths a month, with sub-Saharan Africa children accounting for over 50% of deaths.
One of the causes of malnutrition is undoubtedly strict lockdown measures. They led to the disruption of 75%–100% food supply chains in some countries, making COVID-19 one of the biggest causes of severe acute malnutrition in recent times.
19. About 10.4 million African children could suffer from food insecurity in 2021.
Child malnutrition statistics estimate that 3.3 million children under five will suffer from acute malnutrition (with at least a million experiencing severe acute malnutrition) in the DRC alone.
About 800,000 people in northeast Nigeria face a similar fate, with 300,000 being in danger of severe malnutrition.
The prognosis for northwest Nigeria is even more concerning. The chronic malnutrition rate in Kebbi is 66%. Furthermore, 18% of children suffer from wasting (6.5% of which suffer from severe wasting) in Sokoto.
Other African countries at risk of food insecurity include Central Sudan, Yemen, and South Sahel.
Effects of Malnutrition
Whether you overeat or consume insufficient amounts of food, you’re at risk of malnutrition that can gravely affect your health.
The following paragraphs outline the most important effects of the health condition in question.
20. One in 4 children in the developing world is underweight.
Approximately 146 million, or 27% of children under the age of five, are underweight.
According to recent malnutrition demographics, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest numbers of underweight children, 46% and 28%, respectively. Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States have only 5% of underweight children.
21. One in 3 children in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are stunted.
Stunted children are the ones who haven’t developed physically and mentally due to undernutrition, and they’re usually shorter than their peers. Also known as chronic malnutrition, stunting affects 149 million children globally, with 34.4% living in South Asia.
22. About 340 million children suffer from hidden hunger due to micronutrient deficiencies.
It’s estimated that at least one in two children under the age of five suffers from hidden hunger, meaning they don’t get enough essential vitamins and minerals. It’s important to note that even a mild iodine deficiency can affect a child’s ability to learn.
23. 50 million children suffer from wasting.
The term describes children who are too short or thin for their age due to malnutrition. If left untreated, wasting malnutrition can lead to severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Children with SAM are 12 times more likely to die than healthy children.
24. 1 in 7 children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is overweight.
Overweight and obesity can cause serious health issues both in childhood and later in life. Some of them include musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and orthopedic complications. Others span across early onset of type 2 diabetes and behavioral and emotional problems like depression and stigmatization.
25. There’s a link between malnutrition and increased rates of COVID-19 fatalities.
A 2021 study found that countries with prevailing malnutrition trends during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as countries in the Sahel strip, recorded more fatalities.
Food security, social protection, and nutrition should be prioritized in reducing COVID-19 fatality in these countries.
Prevalence of Malnutrition
Malnutrition has become a global issue and a topic of many statistics and reports.
This section will discuss the prevalence of malnutrition in the world and the United States, with facts, stats, and all essential details.
26. According to the WHO, malnutrition may lead to a global health crisis.
Experts confess world malnutrition is challenging to solve but underline it’s urgent to take steps to eliminate it. Obesity and undernutrition rates are growing and becoming increasingly alarming.
According to malnutrition statistics by the World Health Organization, in 2019, obesity and undernourishment affected 1.9 billion and 462 million people, respectively.
Furthermore, 52 billion children under five suffered from wasting, while 45% of child deaths were linked to undernutrition.
To prevent the global health crisis, governments and suppliers should work together to find a sustainable solution to combat food insecurity and enable everyone unrestricted access to adequate food (such as fruit and vegetables).
27. 1.9 million adults are overweight or obese, while 462 million are underweight.
Malnutrition can affect anyone, regardless of their age, education, or social status. Besides affecting health, malnutrition also increases healthcare costs, affects productivity, impacts economic growth, continuing the cycle of ill health and poverty.
28. Globally, 1 in 9 people goes to bed hungry.
(The World Counts)
The number of people affected by hunger has dropped significantly from 19% in 1990 to 10.8% in 2018, as the global malnutrition statistics reveal. However, the prevalence is still very high, and close to 9 million people annually die from hunger and hunger-related illnesses.
29. Over 30% of hospitalized patients in the US are malnourished.
A cluster of factors such as low income, chronic starvation (anorexia nervosa), old age, diseases (cancer, major infections, sarcopenic obesity) is what causes malnutrition in adults and children in the US.
Malnourished patients have a 50% higher chance of subsequent readmission than patients not affected by malnutrition. They’re also more prone to prolonged hospital stays.
30. The prevalence of overweight children under 5 in the US is 9.4% as of 2016.
(Global Nutrition Report)
This percentage has increased from 8.4% in 2014. However, the prevalence of stunting in children under five is 3.5%, which is less than the global average of 21.9%. Moreover, the prevalence of wasting is 0.4%. As the malnutrition facts for the US show, this is also less than the global average of 7.3%.
The prevalence of malnourished adults is high, as well — 37% of women and 35.5% of men are obese.
31. Haiti is the country with the highest rate of malnourishment in the world.
The whole country is experiencing a major food crisis. Statistics show that two in three Haitians survive on only $2 or less a day. Furthermore, research also shows that one in three children are stunted, and 100,000 children suffer from acute malnutrition. Moreover, one-third of women and children suffer from anemia–one of the many complications of malnutrition.
32. Adolescent obesity in the Philippines has tripled in the last 15 years.
In addition to this, the stunting rate among one-year-olds is 36.6% and is twice as high as the stunting rate among infants who are 6–11 months old, which is 15.5%. Unfortunately, the numbers are growing, according to the Philippine malnutrition statistics.
33. About 2.8 million Americans have a binge eating disorder.
(Walden Behavioral Care)
Malnutrition demographics show that binge eating affects people of all ages and genders, 60% of the affected individuals being women. About 3.5% of binge eating patients in the US are women, while men and adolescents account for 2% and 1.6% cases, respectively.
Although binge eating is characterized by excessive food intake, it can lead to malnutrition. This is because there’s a difference between being malnourished and undernourished.
Being malnourished refers to failing to consume nutrients essential for optimal health through food. Undernutrition and overnutrition are some of the forms of malnutrition.
Undernourished individuals fail to meet the nutritional requirements due to limited food consumption. In contrast, overweight people fail to do so due to excessive intake of foods with no or little nutritional value.
34. Undernutrition is the leading cause of 28% of all childhood deaths in Ethiopia.
When it comes to malnutrition in Ethiopia, statistics reveal that two out of five children suffer from stunting, and 81% of the reported cases of child malnutrition are left untreated.
Diseases Caused by Malnutrition
Besides illness, restricted access and inability to afford healthy nutritious food, as well as the popularity of processed foods, is what causes malnutrition in adults.
Let’s take a look at the health-related consequences of this widespread condition.
35. Malnutrition is common among ACS patients and obese individuals.
(Medical News Today) (ScienceDirect)
A study suggests that malnutrition in patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS) increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.
According to malnutrition facts, malnutrition is even more common in obese individuals who consume mainly food lacking in essential nutrients.
36. Nutritional anemia is a widespread consequence of malnutrition.
(Medical News Today)
An imbalanced diet and a lack of nutrients often lead to low red blood cell count, causing low hemoglobin levels in these cells. It’s a condition known as anemia, and it affects about 30% of the global population.
37. Scurvy is a severe vitamin C deficiency.
The prevalence of this malnutrition-caused illness varies from 73.9% in northern India to 7.1% in the US, meaning that it’s more common in the countries with low socioeconomic status, as revealed by the malnutrition statistics by country.
38. Beriberi is common in regions without access to vitamin-enriched foods.
Vitamin B deficiency is the primary cause of this illness that affects the heart and circulatory system, as well as decreased muscle strength and muscle paralysis.
What causes malnutrition in the elderly?
Numerous factors can cause malnutrition in older people. Limited income, limited access to food (for the disabled), reduced social contact, depression, illnesses, dementia, eating impairments, medications, restricted diets, etc.
What causes malnutrition in alcoholics?
Consuming significant amounts of alcohol can interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Alcohol abuse can also result in poor eating habits and bad decisions regarding nutrition.
How climate change causes malnutrition
Climate change causes and worsens malnutrition in an abundance of ways. Let’s take droughts as an example. Climate change had caused severe droughts in southern Africa in 2015 and 2016, diminishing both the access to water and the quality of available water needed for drinking, cooking, agricultural production, livestock survival, affecting the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people.
How malnutrition causes obesity
Malnutrition weight gain is not unusual. Eating too much food that is not nutritiously rich, like junk food and processed food, causes vitamin deficiency, which in turn leads to malnutrition.
This widespread problem affects mainly children in developing countries. It deteriorates the quality of their life and endangers their future. The malnutrition facts clearly show that it can be prevented and treated with regular exercise and a healthy, well-balanced diet, but the problem is that many people can’t afford this. This is why many humanitarian organizations, like UNICEF, try to raise awareness and help people in developing countries.
- Al Jazeera
- Frontiers in Nutrition
- Global Nutrition Report
- Medical News Today
- Medical News Today
- Medical News Today
- The Guardian
- The World Counts
- University of Dayton Magazine
- Walden Behavioral Care
- World Atlas