Conversation Starter: What Does Malnutrition Mean?

Updated: May 15, 2019
Learn more about what it means to be malnourished, and find out what you can do to help malnourished children throughout the world.
Hands Holding Rice

Peanut butter might be a staple on your breakfast table. PBJ’s are in fact very popular in the United States. A study once found out that the average American will have eaten 1,500 peanut-butter sandwiches before finishing high school.1

Peanut butter isn’t loved by all. Some people are allergic to peanuts and develop severe reactions when coming in contact with them. But for millions of people, especially children, a special form of peanut butter that contains added nutrients is actually a life saver. It is used as a therapeutic food, food that can heal from malnourishment.

Bowl of Peanut Butter

Malnourishment means that a human body for a long time didn’t get the vitamins and minerals it needs to be healthy. For children under the age of five, this is particularly devastating because they won’t grow properly, their brains won’t develop as they should, and they become sick and often die. In many places around the world, especially in parts of Asia and of Africa, families are so poor that they can’t afford nutritious food. Their village may have been hit by drought or flood that destroyed their harvests, their country may have been ravaged by war, or their farmland may have been used for crops like coffee, chocolate, or cotton instead of planting grains, fruits, and vegetables.

One in nine people in the world--mostly in developing countries--doesn’t get enough to eat or enough nutrients to be healthy. For many people, rice is their only regular meal; while this may stave off hunger, it lacks the protein, vitamins, and minerals necessary to stay healthy.

When children aren’t well nourished, their bodies and brains don’t develop properly and they are too weak to play, or too hungry to learn in school.

Yet hunger and malnutrition can be overcome. There is actually enough food on our planet for everyone. If individuals, companies, organizations and governments work together they can ensure that every human has sustainable access to nourishing food. Distributing therapeutic food in form of peanut butter to developing countries is just one small step to fight the problem. Education, lending money to small farmers--especially to women and indigenous people--equal distribution of foods, providing access to clean water, predicting severe weather, and protecting ecosystems and biodiversity are other solutions to end hunger and malnutrition for good.


Malnutrition can also happen if people overeat. An increasing number of people eat too much, or too much that lacks nutritional value. Over time, these people may become obese and develop severe illnesses like heart issues, diabetes, or cancer. Isn’t it strange that two very different sides of nutritional problems exist? 

What Can You Do?

You can help by supporting local farmers in your area through buying their products. Make sure you eat natural and healthy foods as often as possible, and never waste any food.

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This article and its images were first published on, a website that helps parents to explain the world to kids, to inspire them to make a difference and to raise true global citizens.