Kwashiorkor is one of the most important causes of ill-health and death among children in the tropics. Caused by protein deficiency, it typically affects the small child weaned to a diet consisting chiefly of starchy foods. Its onset is characterized by anaemia. The child is apathetic, the hair reddish-orange, the skin dry. Oedema develops and the liver is often enlarged. Protein malnutrition increases vulnerability to infectious diseases; it may lead to an adult predisposition to certain illnesses and to lasting impairment of brain development. Other causes of Kwashiorkor include intestinal malabsorption, chronic alcoholism, kidney disease, and other trauma resulting in the abnormal loss of body protein.
It is estimated that between 100 and 270 million children, commonly in the 6 month to 3 year age group, are afflicted; many die. It occurs throughout the world, mostly in developing areas.