Kwashiorkor is a childhood disorder caused by lack of protein in the diet. The name is from the Kwa language of coastal Ghana.
When a child is nursing, it receives certain amino acids vital to growth from its mother's milk. When the child is weaned, if the diet that replaces the milk is high in starches and carbohydrates, and consists of less than 12% total calories in protein (as is common in parts of the world where the bulk of the diet consists of starchy vegetables, or where famine has struck), the child may develop kwashiorkor.
Symptoms of kwashiorkor include a swollen abdomen, and reddish discoloration of the hair and skin. Generally, the disease can be treated by adding meat or milk back into the diet; however, a case of kwashiorkor will permanently affect a child's physical growth and, in severe cases, mental development.