Malnutrition is a serious condition that happens when your diet does not contain the right amount of nutrients.

It means "poor nutrition" and can refer to:

These pages focus on undernutrition in adults or children. Read about obesity for more about the problems associated with overnutrition.

Signs and symptoms of malnutrition

Common signs of malnutrition include:

Read more about the symptoms of malnutrition.

When to see a GP

See a GP if:

If you're concerned about a friend or family member, try to encourage them to see a GP.

A GP can check if you're at risk of malnutrition by measuring your weight and height, and asking about any medical problems you have or any recent changes in your weight or appetite.

If they think you could be malnourished, they may refer you to a healthcare professional such as a dietitian to discuss treatment.

Who's at risk of malnutrition

Malnutrition is a common problem that affects millions of people in the UK.

Anyone can become malnourished, but it's more common in people who:

People who are 65 years and over are particularly at risk, and weight loss is not an inevitable result of old age. Children under the age of five are also at risk.

Read more about the causes of malnutrition.

Treatments for malnutrition

Treatment for malnutrition depends on your general health and how severely malnourished you are.

The first dietary advice is usually to:

Some people also need support with underlying issues such as limited mobility. For example, care at home or occupational therapy.

If a child is malnourished, their family or carers may need advice and support to address the underlying reasons why it happened.

If these initial dietary changes are not enough, a doctor, nurse or dietitian may also suggest you take extra nutrients in the form of nutritional drinks or supplements.

If you have difficulty eating and this cannot be managed by making changes such as eating soft or liquid foods, other treatments may be recommended, such as:

Read more about how malnutrition is treated.

Preventing malnutrition

The best way to prevent malnutrition is to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

You need to eat a variety of foods from the main food groups, including:

The Eatwell Guide has more information about the types of food you should include in your diet and how to get the right balance between them all.

Speak to a GP or specialist if you have a health problem that puts you at increased risk of malnutrition. You may have more complex dietary needs or need to take supplements.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 23 May 2023
Next review due: 23 May 2026