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Focus on Undernutrition Focus on Undernutrition

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is undernutrition?

Undernutrition and malnutrition are often used to describe the same condition.

Malnutrition is defined as a state of nutrition in which a deficiency, excess or imbalance of energy, protein and other nutrients causes measurable adverse effects on body form (body shape, size and composition) and function and clinical outcomes (Elia, 2003). In simple terms food is not being eaten in the right quantities to provide all the nutrients that is needed.

Undernutrition is related to not eating enough energy and protein. Undernutrition can be reversed by adequate nutritional support if provided in a timely manner.

How can you identify if someone is at risk of undernutrition?

By using the 'MUST' calculator you can determine if someone is at risk of undernutrition. All you need to know is their height, current weight and weight 3-6 months ago. The website will then determine if the individual is low, moderate or high risk of undernutrition, then direct you to appropriate dietary advice.

If someone is identified as moderate risk of undernutrition, what does this mean?

If someone is moderate risk of undernutrition this means that they have lost a small amount of weight unintentionally. Don’t worry there are a few simple things that can be done to increase the energy and protein content of their diet. You can download a leaflet with useful hints.

If someone is identified as high risk of undernutrition, what does this mean?

If someone is high risk of undernutrition this indicates that they have lost a significant amount of weight. Ask “Are you eating 3 meals a day?” “Have you noticed that you’re not eating as much as usual?”

There are things that can be done to increase the energy and protein content of someone’s diet. You can download a leaflet and recipes with useful hints.

Why do people become undernourished?

Weight loss can happen for a variety of reasons, such as having a poor appetite and not eating as much. This might be because of a recent illness or not finding it as easy to prepare meals or do shopping.

Another reason people become undernourished is that additional energy is required. This again can happen for a variety of reasons for instance helping a wound to heal, fighting an infection or an episode of diarrhoea and vomiting.

Does it matter if someone is underweight or undernourished?

It should not be ignore if someone is unintentionally losing weight. Losing weight can have serious consequences such as losing muscle mass which can affect a person’s health. Use the 'MUST' calculator to determine if someone is at risk of undernutrition. Visit the food as treatment page for advice on how to adapt someone’s diet to gain weight.

Where to get help?

To determine if someone is at risk of undernutrition, use the 'MUST' calculator. There are some useful tips on the food as treatment page about how to try and gain weight. If further information is required contact the GP who may refer to a dietitian for advice.