Malnutrition awareness week
This year the Malnutrition Task Force are partnering with The British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition to host #UKMAW2023. The awareness week will run from the 6th- 12th of November 2023, with a focus on both older people and disease related malnutrition.
The week aims to raise awareness and tackle preventable and disease related malnutrition and dehydration, whilst continuing to start conversations about malnutrition and use tools to identify those at risk.
More information can be found on The Malnutrition Task Force website.
What is Malnutrition?
Malnutrition is a major public health issue in the UK, there is an estimated 3 million people in the UK who are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. The World Health Organisation defines malnutrition as:
“Deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients or impaired nutrient utilisation. Malnutrition consists of both undernutrition and overweight and obesity, as well as diet-related noncommunicable diseases” (WHO, 2022).
Malnutrition has many risks and can:
- Increase risk of illness and infection.
- Slow wound healing.
- Increase risk of falls.
- Lead to low mood and reduced energy levels.
- Reduce muscle strength and therefore mobility.
- Reduce independence and quality of life.
Who is at risk?
Anyone is at risk of becoming malnourished however, there are certain groups of people who may be at a greater risk than others.
Malnourishment is a risk for older people, those living alone and people who have low incomes. People with long term health conditions which affect appetite and nutrient absorption in the gut, such as Chron’s disease or having problems swallowing (dysphagia) are also at high risk (BDA, 2019).
Common signs of malnutrition are:
- Unplanned weight changes.
- Loss of appetite and lack of interest in food and/or drinks.
- Loss of muscle strength.
- Alterations in mood.
However, malnutrition can present itself in many different ways and it is important to remain aware and communicate regularly with those at risk.
Ideally, we want to prevent malnutrition before it occurs however, this is not always possible. Therefore, treatment is required to reverse malnutrition and treat the problems it has caused.
Treatment options will depend on the underlying cause and severity of malnutrition however, interventions include:
Dietary changes and supplements:
This could include a personalised diet pan to ensure enough nutrients are being consumed.
This could also include:
- Eating "fortified" foods that contain extra nutrients.
- Snacking between meals on nutrient dense foods.
- Having drinks that contain lots of calories (smoothies, milk-based drinks).
- Getting supermarket deliveries at home.
Sometimes people are unable to eat enough to meet their body's needs and an alternative way of getting nutrients may be needed. A feeding tube can deliver these nutrients and are usually given in a hospital but can also be continued at home if needed.
Care and support services:
Some people who are malnourished need extra care to help them cope with underlying issues such as limited mobility.
This may include:
- Home care visits- can support with cooking and food shopping.
- Occupational therapists- can help to identify ways to combat the causes of malnutrition.
- A ‘meals on wheels’ service or home meal delivery service.
BDA. (2019). Malnutrition. Www.bda.uk.com. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/malnutrition.html
World Health Organization. (2022). Malnutrition. Www.who.int. https://www.who.int/health-topics/malnutrition#tab=tab_1