Malnutrition – who is at risk and things to consider

Malnutrition occurs over time if someone does not meet their nutritional needs. People become malnourished if they don’t eat enough, or the right types of food, or if their body can’t absorb all the nutrients from food.

Some people have special nutritional needs and may need to choose foods more carefully to prevent malnutrition. These include people with:

  • A poor appetite
  • Illnesses that increase nutritional needs such as kidney failure, respiratory disorders, HIV or cancer
  • Eating disorders
  • Elderly people.

Symptoms of malnutrition include:

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Hair loss
  • Pale skin
  • Mental confusion
  • Poor wound healing.

We know malnutrition is linked with poor health.  It can increase a person’s length of stay in hospital, impact on someone’s daily activities and quality of life.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is essential in working with people at risk of malnutrition. They can offer practical dietary advice to help them meet their nutritional needs and improve their health.

Eating a variety of foods will help to meet nutritional needs, but some dietary areas are particularly important. These include:

  • Energy (kilojoules) – to help promote weight gain and health
  • Protein – to build and repair body cells
  • Vitamins and minerals – for body cells to use other nutrients and function normally.

Ideas that can help malnourished people meet nutritional needs include:

  • Eating small frequent meals and snacks to fit in more food throughout the day
  • Having full-cream milk drinks between meals
  • Adding more oil, cream and margarine to food in cooking
  • Adding skim milk powder to soups, stews and drinks
  • Adding grated cheese to cooked foods
  • Snacking on cheese and crackers, yoghurt, nuts and dried fruit during the day.

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) can provide expert nutrition and dietary advice to help those at risk of or suffering from malnutrition meet their nutritional needs – Find a dietitian in your local area.