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Malnutrition guide for older people

Published on 10 May 2013 10:30 AM

A new guide on preventing malnutrition in older people has been published.

Contrary to popular belief in this country, the condition is not confined to the world's developing nations and is a 'very big problem' in the UK.

In fact one in 10 older people in the UK are malnourished, according to the document's authors.

The guide was created by the British Dietetic Association (BDA) and the Malnutrition Task Force.

Malnutrition and dehydration has been thought of as a third world problem for far too long, said Helen Davidson, honorary chairwoman of the BDA, the professional body for UK dietitians.

Ms Davidson said tackling malnutrition in adults could save the NHS up to £45.5 million a year.

Malnutrition is a UK problem

Malnutrition affects an estimated 3 million people in the UK.

It is a serious condition that occurs when a person's diet does not contain the right amount of nutrients.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on nutrition support in adults defines malnutrition as being characterised by:

  • a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5,
  • unintentional weight loss greater than 10% within the last 3 to 6 months,
  • or a BMI below 20 and unintentional weight loss greater than 5% within the last 3 to 6 months.

Causes of malnutrition

There are many explanations as to why someone becomes malnourished.

For example, they may have cancer of the digestive tract which means they are unable to eat properly or can't absorb nutrients.

They may have suffered from a stroke or have advanced dementia, which can cause difficulties chewing and swallowing, or they may abuse alcohol and so not eat properly.

Therefore being unable to afford enough food to sustain a healthy diet is simply one of its many causes.

10% of older people are malnourished

Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of the Malnutrition Task Force, said 10% of older people are malnourished and 93% of them are in the community.

'This is where it starts for many people, so we must make every effort to improve prevention and early detection of malnutrition,' she said.

A variety of factors contribute to malnutrition and addressing them requires the concerted effort of all stakeholders, she said.

Ms Jeffrey added: 'Together, we can combat preventable malnutrition effectively and thus improve the health of older people, maintain their independence and save money for the local health economy, too.'

Copyright Press Association 2013

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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