Is it possible to be overweight and malnourished?

Is it possible to be overweight and malnourished?

When the topic of malnutrition arises, most people associate the term with poverty in developing nations, but malnutrition can also occur in the U.S.

To be considered malnourished, a person’s diet doesn’t provide adequate calories and proteins that are required for maintenance and growth. Malnutrition can also occur when an individual is consuming proper amounts of foods, but the foods he or she is consuming lack the nutrients the body needs for good health.

“Extra calories from all sources cause someone to be overweight, but if the foods are calorie dense and not nutrient dense, this could lead to malnutrition,” says Barbara Fine, registered dietitian at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

Although malnutrition is not a primary focus in the U.S., more than half of all American children don’t consume the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily intake of the most important vitamins and minerals necessary for proper development, according to studies in the Journal of Nutrition. This could be due in part to fast food being readily available for extremely low prices, and many lower income families choosing restaurants as a means to feed their families.

This lifestyle can lead to being both overweight and malnourished, but the key to understanding this paradox is to understand the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients give the body energy through calories and typically come from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, and although they are only needed in minuscule amounts, they perform important duties such as enzyme production, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development.

A majority of the food purchased through fast food chains only gives the body energy and calories while not providing all the essential vitamins and nutrients the body needs.

According to National Health Services, England’s publicly-funded health care system, some of the signs and symptoms of malnutrition include:

  • Depression
  • Higher susceptibility to feeling cold
  • Longer healing time for wounds
  • Longer recovery times from infections and illnesses
  • Reduced muscle and tissue mass
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness, fatigue or apathy

Full service, reasonably priced supermarkets are sometimes uncommon in impoverished neighborhoods, and the stores that are available in these areas typically carry more processed foods than fresh fruits and vegetables. Experts call these areas “food deserts.”

For those living in food deserts, Fine suggests to stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables to keep until they are able to go to a supermarket instead of buying food from convenience stores.

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About the Author

Tiffany Nguyen
Tiffany Nguyen

Tiffany Nguyen, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern at Advocate Support Centers in Downers Grove, IL. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University with a degree in public health. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration focusing specifically on healthcare management at Lewis University. Tiffany enjoys hanging out with her friends, exploring new restaurants, and binge watching Netflix shows.