What is Protein Energy Malnutrition

2 min

Protein Energy Malnutrition

In our human body, protein constitutes about 20% of the body weight. Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids. Protein-energy malnutrition is a spectrum of biological disorders as a result of a lack of adequate food.

Previously, called protein-calorie malnutrition (PCM). Most predominantly seen in weaned infants and preschool children. Rarely seen in developed countries. Sometimes they are life-threatening when left untreated.

It affects the anthropometry measurements in one’s body. Graded as mild, moderate, and severe PEM. They are classified as Primary PEM and Secondary PEM.

Primary PEM

Most predominantly seen in children living in resource-limited countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, and Central America. Moreover, marasmus is the most commonly reported condition among others. They include Kwashiorkor, Nutritional Marasmus, and Marasmic-Kwashiorkor.

Kwashiorkor Symptoms

The main cause is poor diet along with infectious diseases. Food containing less protein and high cellulose are the typical reasons for PEM. Also, anemia and diarrhea aggravate PEM. In this case, a decrease in serum albumin causes peripheral and periorbital edema. The skin is very much affected. In addition, it causes muscle atrophy, bilateral pitting edema, distended abdomen, rounded cheeks, and hepatomegaly. Also, the hair becomes dry and hypopigmented.

Nutritional Marasmus

Generally, they occur due to extremely low nutrient intake. Lack of breastfeeding and poor hygiene leads to marasmus. In other words, a disease of low socio-economic and literacy level. It causes growth retardation, wasting of muscle, weight loss, and hunger in infants. Children with marasmus have very thin and loose skin hangs in folds.


It is a severe condition of Protein Energy Malnutrition. They feature both marasmus and kwashiorkor. Acute or chronic protein deficiency and energy deficit results in marasmic-kwashiorkor. It causes edema, wasting, stunting, and mild hepatomegaly.

Secondary PEM

A type of PEM caused by illnesses affecting appetite, digestion, absorption, metabolism. Seen in hospitalized patients, chronic illness, and elderly people. Decreased food intake, due to other illnesses and medications, and increased energy and protein demand causes them.


Provide adequate nutrition and refill body composition. Cure the condition that caused the deficiency. Although, NG tube feeding and intravenous feeding are used to supply nutrients to patients who cannot eat. Therefore, take plenty of fluids to correct the electrolyte imbalances.


By and large, breastfeeding is the very first vaccine to a child. It most probably prevents early-childhood malnutrition. Provide nutritious food to your children. Furthermore, children should be screened for the presence of illnesses or conditions that could lead to PEM.

Like it? Share with your friends!

Harikrishnan B
Pursuing Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Keen on exploring mysteries and inspired by the beauty of Science.