Good nutrition can help you prevent infections, heal faster, and feel stronger. That is why United Hospital Center (UHC) was an official ambassador of Malnutrition Awareness Week recently, and the only hospital in the state to participate.
Ainsley Malone is a Clinical Practice Specialist with the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition or (ASPEN). ASPEN started Malnutrition Awareness Week in 2012. In 2015, ASPEN expanded the reach of the program through the use of organizational ambassadors, like UHC.
1.) Explain for us what is malnutrition?
Malnutrition is a condition where the body does not receive enough nutrients to function properly. It can occur when someone isn’t able to eat enough food or when their body isn’t able to process the foods eaten. Sometimes it’s because of a disease or medical condition.
People who become malnourished often lose weight, body muscle, and/or body fat which leads to changes in how they are able to do their daily activities.
Many diseases, such as cancer, kidney disease, a stroke, or those of the gastrointestinal tract, for example, can lead to malnutrition as they can impact how someone is able to eat or process their foods.
2.) What is the impact of malnutrition and how often does it occur?
If someone is malnourished, they will not be able to heal as well from surgery or they may be in the hospital longer. Patients in the hospital who are malnourished are more likely to have complications compared to those who don’t have malnutrition. This leads to higher costs to treat someone in the hospital.
It is not easy to know how many individuals in the United States are malnourished as it isn’t always reported in the hospital and it is difficult to identify outside of the hospital. Current estimates suggest that one in three patients admitted to a hospital may be malnourished. An older individual is more likely to be malnourished than someone younger as the older individual may have many reasons why they don’t want to eat including having to take many medications, food not tasting good, and generally not feeling well enough to eat.
Malnutrition can also occur because of “food insecurity” or the lack of resources to buy enough high-quality food. Sometimes folks need to choose between medications and food, and this too can lead to malnutrition.
3.) How is malnutrition treated?
Malnutrition is treated by providing good nutrition. This will vary depending on the malnourished individual and their ability to eat. Often, offering foods that are high in calories, protein and important nutrients will be enough to correct the malnutrition.
Other options can include providing oral nutrition “supplements” to help consume more nutrients. Sometimes, enteral tube feeding or intravenous nutrition may be needed if the individual is unable to eat.
A very important goal is to help prevent someone from becoming malnourished. Raising awareness of malnutrition can lead to better recognition and may keep someone from becoming malnourished and experiencing those undesirable consequences. This is why the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, or ASPEN, developed Malnutrition Awareness Week.
The hope is that by having this awareness program every year, more and more individuals can learn about malnutrition and how it can be prevented or addressed. ASPEN has created several resources to help consumers spot and talk to their health care providers about malnutrition. They can be found at www.nutritioncare.org/malnutrition.
4). Who are most susceptible to malnutrition? What are the signs of malnutrition?
Seniors, Infants, children, and those critically ill. Those with two or more of these signs may be malnourished.
• Unplanned weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Not able to eat or only able to eat small amounts
• Feeling weak or tired
• Swelling or fluid accumulation