Malnutrition and disability: unexplored opportunities for collaboration.

 REF: Pediatr Int Child Health (2014); 34(4): 308­

Authors: Groce N, Challenger E, Berman Bielder R, Farkas A, Yilmaz N, Schultink W, Clark D, Kaplan C, Kerac M.




There is a mutual connection between malnutrition and disability that has been observed in recent years from the professional fields of research and program management. In order to adjust the topic and to clearly conceive the ideas, two general paths of development should be considered:

  1. The first block deals with how the lack or excess of certain nutrients can negatively influence the health of the subjects. In this respect, malnutrition occurs during all cycles of life. For example, vitamin D and calcium deficiency during pregnancy increases the likelihood of adverse events in the foetus, such as cerebral palsy, cognitive deficiency, as well as visual and auditory problems. In another case, iodine deficiency in infants and children decreases cognitive development, which can affect learning and behaviour. Also, malnutrition causes low body weight, delayed growth and immune system deterioration, which makes the child more susceptible to suffer from infections. In older adults, this scenario may also increase the likelihood of bone fractures, which may lead to limited physical mobility. However, the great concern that is emerging in the group of elderly people is obesity, due precisely to an excess and not a shortage of nutrients.


  1. Individuals with disabilities are susceptible to nutrient deficiencies. Otherwise said, it is unknown what dietary treatments should be followed in individuals with disabilities, or how nutrition can affect their health. It is also unknown how certain social situations can influence the nutritional status of the disabled. For example, it is unknown how treatment compliance is related to the culture level, economic situation, education, or work type in the diet of a disabled person.

Certain environments could favour situations of malnutrition, where education, the culture of parents, caregivers and providers are combined. These can treat a child with disabilities as an infant, continuing with a liquid diet, believing that the child will not be able to take solid foods. However, this approach is wrong and will undoubtedly lead to severe malnutrition.

On the other hand, it should be noted that it is currently necessary to establish a protocol of principles and guidelines to improve the link between nutrition and disability. In order to elaborate this protocol, it is necessary to improve and increase the contrasted data in different research projects, as well as increase accessibility to nutrition services in pregnant and lactating mothers. Also, international and national nutrition plans and policies are necessary to be developed specifically for the disabled.

As a critical vision, the article does not present a joint vision of malnutrition and disability, but rather a dichotomous vision that focuses more on malnutrition and the disorders it causes. The second part is rather sociological, since it deals with situations that the disabled can experience in society and how they affect their nutritional status.