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Marasmus facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

Marasmus is a form of malnutrition. It happens in people (especially children) who do not get enough food. A healthy person gets energy from eating food, especially foods with protein and fat in them. Because a person with marasmus is not getting enough food, they do not get the energy they need to survive.

Children with marasmus look emaciated (very skinny). This is because their bodies have burned up all of their fat and muscles to make energy. The child's body weight will be less than 60% of a normal child his or her age.

Marasmus can be treated.

The word “marasmus” comes from the Greek word μαρασμός marasmos (meaning "decay").

Signs and symptoms

Most children with marasmus look shrunken and have lost most of their muscles and body fat. Their bodies try to save as much energy as possible by shutting down the immune system, not growing, and giving less energy to the liver, kidneys, heart, and gastrointestinal system. This can cause problems like:

  • Having too much fluid in the body, because the kidneys are not working well enough to get rid of it. This can lead toedema (fluid under the skin) and even heart failure.
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), because staying warm takes energy, and because the child has almost no fat or muscles to keep them warm
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), because the child is not getting sugar or carbohydrates from foods
  • Infection, because the child's body has shut down the immune system, which usually fights infection, to save energy

Other symptoms of marasmus include:

Protein-energy malnutrition world map - DALY - WHO2002
Disability-adjusted life year for protein-energy malnutrition per 100,000 inhabitants in 2002.      no data      less than 10      10–100      100–200      200–300      300–400      400–500      500–600      600–700      700–800      800–1000      1000–1350      more than 1350


Marasmus is caused by a deficiency (not having enough) of nearly all nutrients, especially protein, carbohydrates, and lipids (fats).


Marasmus can be treated by giving emergency nutrients and fluids. However, treating the causes of marasmus is not enough. Often, the disease has complications (it causes other problems), like infections, dehydration, and problems with the circulatory system. These complications are very dangerous and often kill children if they are not treated correctly.

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