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Malnutrition: You Could Be at Risk and Not Know It

Malnutrition: You Could Be at Risk and Not Know It

This month, National Nutrition Month 2022, the Valley Health Nutrition Therapy team is taking time to educate patients about a variety of topics related to food, eating and good health, including discussing malnutrition.

Many of us think of regions with famine or war when we consider malnutrition, but you might be surprised to learn that malnutrition is not uncommon right here in our community. It describes a deficiency, an excess, or an imbalance of nutrients that has an adverse effect on a person’s body composition, function and overall health.

Malnutrition may be seen in individuals who are either outwardly thin (not enough nutrients) or outwardly obese (excessive calorie consumption, but not enough vitamins and minerals). It can be caused by environmental conditions, such as difficulty in preparing or finding meals, or by medical issues, such as acute trauma or chronic illness. Those at higher risk for malnutrition include seniors who may be socially isolated or unable to shop for and/or prepare meals due to mobility issues; those with mental illness and behavioral disorders such as alcoholism, schizophrenia, or bulimia; and those with digestive disorders.

“There are more malnourished patients in hospitals than you might expect,” said Clinical Manager Jennifer Carter, RD, who specializes in nutrition support at Winchester Medical Center. “Forty percent of all inpatients are malnourished throughout hospitals nationwide.”

People who are malnourished are at risk for frequent or prolonged hospitalizations, infection, delayed wound healing and other medical complications.

How Do I Know If I’m Malnourished?

Valley Health follows the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) criteria to diagnose malnutrition in patients.

Adults could be at risk of malnutrition if they have any two of the following:

  • Insufficient calorie intake
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Loss of subcutaneous fat
  • Localized or generalized fluid accumulation (edema)
  • Diminished functional status (reduced handgrip strength)

Prevention and Treatment of Malnutrition

Treatment of malnutrition aims to supply the nutrients that are lacking. In a hospital setting, this might include using oral supplements, a feeding tube, or intravenous feeding. Patients discuss and develop with their healthcare provider a nutritional care and eating plan individualized to address specific needs.

To prevent malnourishment, eat a balanced diet, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables: oranges, apples, pineapples, eggplant, avocado, green peas, tomatoes, cabbage and spinach
  • Carbohydrates: bread, rice, pasta, cereals, potatoes
  • Dairy products: milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Protein: lean meat, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts

You should also avoid fast food and foods with lots of sugar like candy, cakes and pies, and sugary drinks due to overall poor nutritional content.

For more information on how to ensure that the nutritional needs of your loved ones are met, visit the “About Nutrition” section of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website or make an appointment with one of Valley Health’s Primary Care providers.