What is malnutrition?

In recent months there has been a lot of debate onto tackling the problem of obesity, which is a big problem in tsalt-51973_640he UK. There have been many suggestions voiced by health professionals, which can be read in this subject.

However, the enormous emphasis on obesity (and rightly so) has overshadowed a problem occurring at the opposite end of the scale and that is of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a state of being when the body is not receiving the nutrients it needs. The NHS choices definition of malnutrition is as follows:  Malnutrition is a serious condition that occurs when a person’s diet does not contain the right amount of nutrients. Malnutrition in the UK affects an estimated 3 million residents. One may argue that the problem of malnutrition is not as big as other diseases such as cancer, however, it does make sense to address the issue when it is still relatively at a ‘small’ level, of course in reality and morally, one child or adult malnourished is one too many.

Causes of malnutrition are a lack of a balanced diet. It is important to remember malnutrition is not simply being hungry and lacking food, on occasions an individual may be malnourished in a specific nutrient such as iron but are not suffering from hunger.

Malnutrition Symptoms

Before discussing how malnutrition can be best tackled, it is important to understand the symptoms of malnutrition. In fact, understanding malnutrition is the first step of abolishing the condition. Though, it may seem the symptoms are obvious, it is important to state and understand them. Without doubt, the most obvious symptoms are a dramatic loss in weight (5-10%) within three to six months. However, other symptoms include weak muscles, irritability, low mood and an increase in illness and infections. Diagnosis is primarily done on these factors. Additional things need to be taken into account especially when diagnosing in children, for example a measuring their weight and height against the expected average.

How to cure malnutrition

Treatment for malnutrition can be easy if acted upon early. To prevent malnutrition an improvement in diet is needed, targeting those minerals and nutrients that are lacking in an individual. With cure being easy and readily available, the focus should lie in the prevention of malnutrition.

Generating awareness

It is important to inform and educate individuals on malnutrition, including parents and teachers so they know the relevant signs they need to look out for in our kids health. Additionally, it is important to know where the gaps in knowledge are as these are ones to be filled.

We refer to our work with Stroke Association to explain how this is made plausible and practical. The Stroke Association were collecting the general public’s blood pressure data across the UK and we mapped that data on a dashboard powered by Google Maps, that was colour coded to different between areas of high and low blood pressure. The dashboard allowed Stroke Association to use their resources and focus their attention on educating in areas where high blood pressure is prevalent, hence where a stroke is more likely. Educating using a methodological approach such as this ensures that the information gets to the people who need it the most. There is little value in education about the links between blood pressure and stroke in those areas where they are already looking after themselves.

A similar approach can be applied in the case of malnutrition- or any said condition for that matter. Knowing where there are knowledge gaps, understanding the areas where people are suffering the most or are undereducated is valuable to any healthcare organisation and charity because it allows them to target the pain.


Furthermore, it is important to be conducting the necessary measurements. Regular BMI measurements of adults and children alike are important but also to make the BMI data actionable. Placing BMI data on a dashboard is a unique way of looking the data because it facilitates an easy comparison of an individual’s BMI against the average expected for their gender and age. Additionally, individual statistics of height and weight is comparable with the national average as well with an individual’s previous readings to detect any dramatic changes. It is important to note that this also helps in monitoring obesity/over nutrition!

An interactive dashboard can help a health and charity professional understand issues and permits them to view patterns in data not possible with a manual, ‘face value’ analysis. Previously, a dashboard has been used in the aforementioned Stroke Association awareness campaign and in various performance related activities and, in the future, patient experience.


The best time to tackle malnutrition is at a time when the problem and numbers are low relative to other conditions. We as members of the public need to educate and empower ourselves and use the necessary technological resources and take practical measures in addressing such an issue.

If you’d like to learn more about malnutrition, NHS choices have a detailed scope of the condition. Alternatively book your free workshop and onsite assessment or contact us for more information in using the power of data and technology in tackling malnutrition.