Malnutrition (poor nutrition) occurs when a child is not getting the right nutrition to support normal growth. This can mean that a child is getting too many or too few calories, or not the right balance of nutritional ingredients such as vitamins and minerals.
Infants and children who are malnourished can have varying symptoms, depending on the type of nutrient(s) they may be lacking or receiving too much of. Children can have poor weight gain or poor growth. They might have symptoms from vitamin deficiencies like anemia from not getting enough iron, or poor growth from inadequate Vitamin D, or they could be obese from receiving too many calories or unhealthy calories.
Malnutrition can result from eating poorly due to chewing or swallowing problems, poor appetite, restrictive dietary patterns, or from diseases in the digestive tract that prevent proper digestion and absorption.
To diagnose malnutrition, sometimes it can take more than realizing a child is not growing properly, or not gaining weight. Growth records need to be reviewed in detail, but in addition, a thorough physical exam is required, looking for changes in the skin, hair, mouth, and other parts of the body. Many times, lab tests also need to be done, checking for specific deficiencies of vitamins and minerals.
Treatment is aimed at replenishing missing nutrients or reducing excessive intake of unhealthy calories, finding the right balance for each child. Sometimes, supplements are required, usually for a short while.