Undernutrition accounts for more than half of the deaths among young children worldwide, according to a new study. The research shows that lack of a good diet is a major contributor to deaths from diarrhea, pneumonia, measles, and malaria.

The study looked at young children who were underweight for their age in 10 studies on child deaths. It found that undernutrition was involved in 52 percent of all deaths worldwide in young children. The research shows that conditions short of severe malnutrition are still a serious risk to public health.

Lead author Laura Caulfield at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore says undernourished children have weaker immune systems. "They are more likely to get sick because of that. But even more importantly, they are very much more likely to become severely ill," she says.

Professor Caulfield says that treating undernutrition would go a long way towards reducing the death toll from diarrhea, pneumonia, measles, and malaria among young children. The study appears in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.