Long-lasting effects of undernutrition

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jun;8(6):1817-46. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8061817. Epub 2011 May 26.


Undernutrition is one of the most important public health problems, affecting more than 900 million individuals around the World. It is responsible for the highest mortality rate in children and has long-lasting physiologic effects, including an increased susceptibility to fat accumulation mostly in the central region of the body, lower fat oxidation, lower resting and postprandial energy expenditure, insulin resistance in adulthood, hypertension, dyslipidaemia and a reduced capacity for manual work, among other impairments. Marked changes in the function of the autonomic nervous system have been described in undernourished experimental animals. Some of these effects seem to be epigenetic, passing on to the next generation. Undernutrition in children has been linked to poor mental development and school achievement as well as behavioural abnormalities. However, there is still a debate in the literature regarding whether some of these effects are permanent or reversible. Stunted children who had experienced catch-up growth had verbal vocabulary and quantitative test scores that did not differ from children who were not stunted. Children treated before 6 years of age in day-hospitals and who recovered in weight and height have normal body compositions, bone mineral densities and insulin production and sensitivity.

Keywords: body composition; dyslipidaemia; energy expenditure; hypertension; insulin; undernutrition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dyslipidemias / epidemiology
  • Dyslipidemias / etiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Infant
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / complications*
  • Malnutrition / diagnosis
  • Malnutrition / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Insulin
  • Glucose