What Is the Difference between Hunger and Malnutrition?

H. Lo

Hunger and malnutrition are two separate conditions. Hunger is a feeling produced by the body that indicates it needs food, while malnutrition is a condition caused by a lack of nutrients. People suffer from hunger if their bodies do not receive the amount of food they need. On the other hand, people suffer from malnutrition due to prolonged hunger, poor diets or an underlying medical condition. Although hunger and malnutrition can affect any one of any age, it is children and teenagers who suffer the most as a result, since they are still growing.

Many children in rural or developing areas receive enough food, but lack high quality protein sources leading to malnutrition.
Many children in rural or developing areas receive enough food, but lack high quality protein sources leading to malnutrition.

It might seem like hunger and malnutrition only exist in developing countries, but this is not true. People all over the world, no matter the country, suffer from hunger and malnutrition due to a variety of factors. Poverty, for example, limits food supply and, therefore, food intake. In addition, natural disasters destroy foods and limit the ability to receive more. Other factors that affect the extent of hunger and malnutrition on people are politics and war.

A balanced diet is important for avoiding malnutrition.
A balanced diet is important for avoiding malnutrition.

When hunger is not necessarily a factor of malnutrition, the condition can be caused by poor diets or underlying medical conditions. Special diets, for example, can leave gaps in nutrient intake and, therefore, should be balanced. Underlying medical conditions can also cause malnutrition. There are many types of medical conditions that can affect the body's ability to digest or absorb nutrients. With Celiac disease, for example, the intestine is unable to properly absorb nutrients for the body.

Someone who suffers from malnutrition can exhibit signs such as fatigue, dizziness and low energy. In addition, he might experience other signs of malnutrition which include poor growth, poor immune function and weight loss, as well as slow reaction time and trouble learning. To diagnose the condition, a doctor might give the patient a blood test or he might use an imaging device to look for physical signs of the condition inside the body. Among other procedures, the doctor might also examine the patient’s height and weight.

Mental and physical problems can arise as a consequence of malnutrition. It is a good idea, then, to seek medical attention for the condition, as it is usually treatable. If left untreated, it can cause other medical conditions to occur, mentally or physically disable a person, and even lead to death. Typically, treatment for malnutrition involves replacing nutrients the body lacks and treating any underlying medical causes.

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Discussion Comments


@bear78-- There are other causes of hunger and malnutrition in developed countries too. Poverty also exists in developed countries. In addition, children, elderly and people with eating disorders are at risk of malnutrition as well.

In comparison to countries where most of the population lives under the poverty line and where war and conflict prevents people from accessing food, the malnutrition experienced in the US is a very minor issue though.


@fify-- Well, yes and no.

Malnutrition, technically, means not getting enough nutrients. It's actually possible for someone to get enough calories (that is, food) and still be malnourished. For example, if someone only eats one type of food like fast food all the time, or avoids things like meat, dairy, vegetables and fruits, they will probably be malnourished after some time. So they may not be hungry, they may still get food but they won't be meeting all of the vitamin and mineral requirements their body needs.

This phenomenon only really occurs in developed countries though. In developing nations, malnutrition is a result of hunger and starvation.


If someone is malnourished, does that mean that they are without food most of the time? I mean, are they constantly battling hunger?

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