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Child Protein Deficiency

author image Rachel Nall
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.
Child Protein Deficiency
A child is grumpy and sitting at a table. Photo Credit: Darrin Klimek/Photodisc/Getty Images

Although protein deficiency is not a common nutritional problem in the United States, children in impoverished countries more commonly suffer from protein deficiency, a condition known as kwashiorkor. Because protein is a key macronutrient in a child’s diet, a deficiency can have serious health consequences and effects if left untreated. If you suspect a child may be protein deficient, talk to the child’s guardian or physician.

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Protein is present in every tissue in your body. This means a lack of protein in a child’s diet often manifests itself in physical changes such as changes to skin pigmentation, loss of muscle mass, hair loss or a skin rash. Kwashiorkor also can cause an enlarged, protruding abdomen. A child also may experience an increased amount of illness because lack of protein can affect the production of immunoglobulins, which help to promote a healthy immune system. This can make normally minor infections more severe.


A number of tests can help to determine if a child does not have enough protein in her blood. In addition to a physical examination and dietary history, a physician can perform a blood test. This test will check for low blood pH, low blood proteins and a lack of iron in the blood. A urine sample that reveals low urea in the urine also can indicate a lack of protein in the diet.


Having a protein deficiency in a child’s daily diet can be harmful for a child’s growth. While adding extra calories and protein can help to correct kwashiorkor, this must be performed under a physician’s supervision and undertaken over the course of a certain time period because the body can react negatively to a sudden increase in foods. This includes stunted height and growth, including slowed growth in mental function. Even if the child continues a healthy diet for the rest of his life, the lost protein needed for growth can have far-reaching effects. Additional long-term implications can include a lactose intolerance, which means the child cannot digest certain sugars in milk.


In some instances, child protein deficiency can have a severe underlying cause, such as child abuse or neglect, according to MedlinePlus. Because this is a serious health issue, you may wish to contact your local Child & Welfare Services health branch if a child is showing symptoms of severe protein deficiency.

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