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What is Malnutrition?

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Grandma, mother and daughter cooking in the kitchen

Key takeaways

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Most people want to live the best life they possibly can. This means filling your body with the right nutrients and staying strong, so you can recover quickly when life throws unexpected health challenges your way.

Good nutrition is vital for the body to do its many jobs efficiently. This is especially true when recovering from an illness like cancer or stroke, lung conditions and even after a stay in hospital. A healthy, nutrient-rich diet improves immunity, improves recovery times and lowers the risk of infection.1,2,3

What your body needs in the way of nutrients changes over time as we age. There may also be times when your body struggles to get all the essential nutrients its need through diet. You may find that you are eating smaller meals, less protein and a smaller variety of vitamins and mineral rich foods, causing your body to become weaker and therefore less resilient.

This can lead to malnutrition, a serious health condition that occurs when a person’s diet does not provide enough, or the right balance, of nutrients for optimal health. Malnutrition is defined as ‘a state of nutrition in which a deficiency or excess (or imbalance) of energy, protein, and other nutrients causes measurable adverse effects on tissue/body form (body shape, size).4 Put simply, malnutrition occurs when a person gets too much or too little of certain nutrients. Disease-related malnutrition is ‘too little’ – sometimes referred to as protein-energy malnutrition or undernutrition.

This imbalance impacts the body’s ability to function as it normally should. Malnutrition is a major international, Australian and New Zealand health problem, which continues to be unrecognised and therefore, untreated. Because of this lack of awareness, it’s not uncommon for people to assume malnutrition is confined to countries where nutrition is poor and living conditions are compromised.

Today, malnutrition affects billions of people worldwide and can lead to serious health issues. In Australia and New Zealand, malnutrition affects approximately 10 – 30% of people living in the community, with the prevalence being higher in older people and people with certain diseases such as cancer.5 It estimated to affect 35-43 percent of patients in hospital and an Australian study into the prevalence across eight residential aged care facilities ranged from 32-72 percent.6

Grandma, mother and daughter cooking in the kitchen

References

  1. Cawood, AL, Elia M, Stratton RJ. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of high protein oral nutritional supplements. Ageing Res Rev. 2012; 11: 278-296.
  2. Milne AC, Potter J, Vivanti A, Avenell A. Protein and energy supplementation in elderly people at risk from malnutrition (Review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2009;. 2: CD003288.
  3. Medical Nutrition International Industry (MNI). Better care through better nutrition: value and effects of medical nutrition. A summary of the evidence base. 2009 (updated 2018). Retrieved from: https://medicalnutritionindustry.com/medical-nutrition/medical-nutrition-dossier/ (July 2020)
  4. Elia M (Chairman and Editor). Guidelines for detection and management of malnutrition in the community. Malnutrition Advisory Group. A standing committee of British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN). Maidenhead: BAPEN, 2000.
  5. Dietitians Association of Australia. Evidence based practice guidelines for the management of malnutrition in adult patients across the continuum of care. Nutr Diet. 2009; 66 (3): S1-S34.
  6. Is malnutrition an issue in Australia? https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/medical/is-malnutrition-an-issue-in-australia. Accessed July 2020.
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