Malnutrition and gastrointestinal and respiratory infections in children: a public health problem

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Apr;8(4):1174-205. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8041174. Epub 2011 Apr 18.


Infectious disease is the major cause of morbidity and mortality in developing countries, particularly in children. Increasing evidence suggests that protein-calorie malnutrition is the underlying reason for the increased susceptibility to infections observed in these areas. Moreover, certain infectious diseases also cause malnutrition, which can result in a vicious cycle. Malnutrition and bacterial gastrointestinal and respiratory infections represent a serious public health problem. The increased incidence and severity of infections in malnourished children is largely due to the deterioration of immune function; limited production and/or diminished functional capacity of all cellular components of the immune system have been reported in malnutrition. In this review, we analyze the cyclical relationship between malnutrition, immune response dysfunction, increased susceptibility to infectious disease, and metabolic responses that further alter nutritional status. The consequences of malnutrition are diverse and included: increased susceptibility to infection, impaired child development, increased mortality rate and individuals who come to function in suboptimal ways.

Keywords: gastrointestinal infections; immune response dysfunction; malnourished children; malnutrition; respiratory infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / complications*
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Bacterial Infections / mortality
  • Child
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / complications*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / immunology
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / mortality
  • Gastroenteritis / complications*
  • Gastroenteritis / immunology
  • Gastroenteritis / mortality
  • Humans
  • Leptin / immunology
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Nutritional Status / immunology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / complications*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / mortality


  • Leptin