Difference Between Malnutrition and Undernutrition

Poverty and hunger are two of the biggest problems faced by the world today. Terms commonly heard and discussed with respect to hunger are malnutrition and Under-nutrition. Human beings need food on a daily basis to have the energy required for growth and maintenance of important bodily functions. There are many important nutrients that are required in different quantities daily by our bodies. People remain confused between malnutrition and Under-nutrition when reading related articles or when hearing experts on different forums. This article attempts to make clear the differences between malnutrition and under-nutrition.


If we look up a dictionary for the meaning of nutrition, we find that it has been described as food, nourishment, diet and also as the process that provides our bodies the energy needed for maintenance and growth. We are living beings which means that our cells require energy to survive and grow. It is the supply of food materials in the right and balanced quantities that makes up balanced nutrition. While intake of a balanced diet is required and recommended by doctors and scientists all over the world, more than half of the world population suffers from malnutrition. Mal is a prefix that implies bad, and malnutrition is a term that refers to lack of proper nutrients. There could be excess intake of a few nutrients while there could be a complete lack or absence of some of the essential nutrients in the diet of the people. Malnutrition is not the condition of not getting enough food; it is also a condition of not getting proper food. A person is said to be suffering from malnutrition when he is not getting the minimum quantities of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and all other important nutrients.


Under-nutrition is a type of malnutrition where a person suffers from lack of essential nutrients. There is a deficiency of essential nutrients in the body when we are talking about the health of a person and using the word under-nutrition. There is a quantitative aspect of the word under-nutrition as it implies that people in a particular place or country do not have access to enough food to eat. Under-nutrition can lead to diseases depending upon which of the important nutrients are lacking in the diet of the person. Under-nutrition can be general in poor countries where there is not enough to eat for the people or it could be specific where people are found lacking in a particular nutrient.

What is the difference between Malnutrition and Under-nutrition?

• Malnutrition and under-nutrition are terms often used loosely to refer to a condition where a person is not getting a balanced diet. However, malnutrition could technically be both under as well as over nutrition. As such obesity is a condition that is a result of malnutrition.

• Anemia, goiter, scurvy etc. are some of the diseases that are a result of malnutrition.

• Starvation is one of the forms of under-nutrition and is seen in poor countries with high populations.

• In malnutrition, there can be deficiency, excess, or imbalance of nutrients whereas there is only deficiency in under-nutrition.

• Malnutrition can include absorption and digestion problems whereas undernutrition specifically refers to people not getting enough food.