Difference between Kwashiorkor and Marasmus

Key Difference: Kwashiorkor is a form of malnutrition that is caused due to insufficient intake of proteins, whereas Marasmus is caused due to insufficient intake of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Kwashiorkor and Marasmus both fall in category of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a serious condition occurred due to insufficient intake of nutrients in the diet. The word Kwashiorkor comes from an African word meaning “first child – second child.” Kwashiorkor is a kind of malnutrition that is most often found in children. It is primarily caused due to insufficient intake of proteins. However, it do not have any relation with the amount of calories intake i.e. may be a person is having a high calorie food but specifically less proteins then in that case the person is prone to Kwashiorkor. This kind of malnutrition is primarily found in developing countries. Due to poverty, children are deprived of the necessary proteins in diet and therefore suffer from malnutrition like kwashiorkor. It stunts growth and children tend to have bloated bellies and thin arms and legs. Kwashiorkor is also known by names like protein malnutrition, protein-calorie malnutrition or malignant malnutrition. It is very rare in children of developed countries like the United States of America.

Marasmus is also a kind of malnutrition that occurs due to deficiency of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in the diet. In marasmus the child consumes little or no food leading to minimal caloric intake and also a total lack of nutrients. It is also caused due to metabolic and genetic problems which make the body incapable of absorbing the necessary nutrients. Due to lack of nutrients, the body starts consuming own tissues, fats and muscle. Breast feeding helps in preventing the disease. It mainly affects children who are weaned away from mother’s milk.

They are both types of malnutrition but the main difference is that kwashiorkor is caused by deficiency of proteins and the marasmus is caused by deficiency of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Sometimes the symptoms of kwashiorkor are so mild that it is difficult to recognize the patient of this malnutrition, but on the other hand a marasmus patient can be easily identified at a glance. Both types of malnutrition are very dangerous and can cause severe effects. Thus, timely treatment should be provided and special attention should be given to the diet of the children. Another kind of malnutrition that is related to kwashiorkor and marasmus is known as Marasmic kwashiorkor. Marasmic kwashiorkor is a form of malnutrition that lies in between kwashiorkor and marasmus, as is clear by its name. Kwashiorkor and marasmus can be differentiated primarily on the basis of symptoms, causes and treatment. The table below mentions these important differences:-





Kwashiorkor is a kind of malnutrition. It is primarily caused due to insufficient intake of proteins.

Marasmus is a kind of malnutrition that occurs due to deficiency of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in the diet.


Large belly sticking out, diarrhea, change in skin pigment, decreased muscle mass, diarrhea, failure to gain weight and grow, fatigue, hair changes, etc.

Peeling and alternately pigmented skin, hair loss, edema or swelling, skin folds are formed, etc.


Generally children of age 1-5 years

Generally children under the age 1

Main causes

Weaned from mother’s milk to a diet low in protein

Failed breastfeeding, feeding inadequate infant formula or suffering from some disease like diarrhea

Wasting of muscles

Not evident

Quite evident

Bloated belly

Yes, due to retention of fluids



Providing carbohydrates followed by high protein foods. Dried milk specially.

Providing a nutritious, well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and protein. Especially adding Vitamin B to the diet.

Image Courtesy: myguesthouse.com, yourlocalguardian.co.uk

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How do odema occur in the patients with marasmus!?

Thanks. It is a very helpful article


why did marasmus happen

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