Fact Sheet: Malnutrition


Malnutrition (or under nutrition) is a general term that indicates a lack of some or all-nutritional elements necessary for human health. There are two basic types of malnutrition: protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) and micronutrient deficiency. PEM is a lack of calories and protein, which are necessary for key body functions and the development and maintenance of muscles. This is the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed. Micronutrient deficiency is a lack of vitamins and minerals, and although important in its own right, is not the type of malnutrition that is referred to when discussing world hunger.

World Figures

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations provides key statistics in this area.  According to the U.N. there are over 842 million people suffering from persistent hungry. While many areas around the world are decreasing the percentage of the population that are hungry, the number of hungry people in Africa grew from 175 million to 239 million. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to suffer, with the percentage of hungry people rising from 2% each year since 2007.

Women and children are affected most by hunger, as in many parts of the world, the men will eat first, and the women and children will eat second with what remains. Children are most physically affected by malnourishment, suffering from a far greater rate of illness. Malnourishment is a factor in at least half of all child deaths. As the body grows and develops proper nutrition is vital, and if these are lacking, it affects the body’s health and well being later in life.

Main Causes

The causes of malnutrition and hunger are varied. However, the principle cause is poverty, which in itself is a result of several different factors. These include unequal economic systems and trading relationships, the occurrence of conflict which greatly increases the number of refugees, and the changing climate, causing increased doubt and changing weather patterns, which severely impacts the success of farming. 

Malnutrition and hunger in Malawi

Malawi has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world with an estimated 46% of children under the age of five having stunted growth. There is often also a higher rate of malnutrition in the rural areas than in the urban areas.   The diet of Malawians consists primarily of grains, starchy roots and starchy fruit, which translates into a high energy content but with low protein, fat and micronutrients. These are crucial for a child’s development and an adults general health and well-being. Where there is malnourishment, a person is far more likely to succumb to sickness and disease. This leaves them unable to work and further adds to the poverty cycle.

The Malawian Government and other international agencies have taken action but have only had limited success. The Essential Nutrition Action Program was created by the Government to address malnutrition by introducing the fortification of sugar with Vitamin A. Unfortunately, this sugar is unaffordable to most of the population that actually need it.


The core activities of Mphatso are the Nursery School programs. In 12 nursery schools across the region, over 1000 children attend the education program every weekday, receiving a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea. This may be the only meal that some of the children receive on that day. This regular, nutritious meal helps tackle the widespread issue of malnutrition. Although no surveys have yet been conducted, there have been clear health benefits which can be seen by contrasting different rural areas; those with a nursery school, and those without.

For more information on malnutrition in general, follow the links below-



For more information on malnutrition in Malawi, follow the links below