Human Evolution

, Volume 11, Issue 3–4, pp 233–248 | Cite as

Relationships between undernutrition, infection, and growth and development

  • S. J. Ulijaszek


Interactions between undernutrition, infection, and growth and development are complex, and are reviewed in this article. Anthropometry is a common means of nutritional assessment, but the relationship between food availability and anthropometric status is at best very loose, at least at the national level. This suggests that anthropometric assessment is less a measure of nutritional status than of the totality of environmental factors that influence growth, including infectious disease. The effects of diet, nutrition and infection on the nutritional status of a child can vary according to the disease ecology, the age of the child, patterns of feeding and types of food consumed. There are two possible ways in which this relationship can begin; one in which poor nutritional status leads to impaired immunocompetence and reduced resistance to infection, and the other in which exposure to infectious disease can lead to appetite loss and anorexia, malabsorption, and elevated metabolism of energy and other nutrients. Once started, the interactions between these two major environmental stressors becomes increasingly complex, with the nature of the disease ecology influencing the balance of immunoparesis and adaptive immunity its effect on subsequent disease experience, and the extent, if any, of anorexia, fever, and malabsorption during infectious episodes which has an impact on nutritional status. Specific nutritional deficiencies can subsequently influence immune status and responsiveness, and adaptive immunity. In addition, cultural factors can influence patterns of disease management and sickness behaviour, which can in turn affect the incidence, severity and duration of infection, and their effects on nutritional status, while deficiencies of vitamins and trace elements can have major effects on immune responsiveness.

Key words

Growth and development nutrition infection immune system 


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Copyright information

© International Institute for the Study of Man 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. J. Ulijaszek
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological AnthropologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridge

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