Malnutrition starts in the community

Now, I know what you’re thinking. We are regularly subjected to heart wrenching images of those living in poverty, unable to gain access to food, water or healthcare. Malnutrition is a worldwide problem without a doubt, however, potentially to the surprise of some, there’s also a problem much closer to home.

Malnutrition is defined by the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition as a ‘state in which a deficiency or excess of energy, protein and other nutrients causes adverse effects on the body, function and clinical outcome’ [1]. Poor nutrition can reduce the ability of our body to fight infections, can slow down wound healing, and reduce our functional capacity. Even here in New Zealand malnutrition is evident and it’s all around us.

The prevalence of nutrition risk among community living older people in New Zealand has been reported to range between 31-49% [2-5]. When you hear the word ‘malnutrition’, the first image that may spring to your mind might be the unwell patient in a hospital bed or the lonely ‘fella living up the road; however it may not be that obvious. It could be your neighbour, a grandparent, your father, your sister, or maybe even you.

But how do you know whether someone you know might be at risk? People over 65 years of age, those with a long-term health condition such as cancer, lung disease or diabetes, swallowing or chewing problems, poor mobility and social isolation are just a few of a long list of risk factors [1].

Malnutrition starts in the community, and it can end in the community. In some cases, if we recognise malnutrition we can treat it early, or better still, we may even be able to prevent it from happening in the first place. Good nutrition prevents malnutrition, supports physical function and helps to reduce the risk of chronic disease [6]. So let’s work together to starve malnutrition from our communities.

  1. British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. Introduction to malnutrition. 2016  11/4/17]; Available from:
  2. Wham, C., R. Carr, and F. Heller, Country of origin predicts nutrition risk among community living older people. J Nutr Health Aging, 2011. 15(4): p. 253-258.
  3. McElnay, C., et al., Nutritional risk amongst community-living Maori and non-Maori older people in Hawke's Bay. Journal of Primary Health Care, 2012. 4(4): p. 299-305.
  4. Wham, C., et al., Health and social factors associated with nutrition risk: Results from life and living in advanced age: A cohort study in New Zealand ( LILACS NZ). J Nutr Health Aging, 2015. 19(6): p. 637-645.
  5. Watson, S., Z. Zhang, and T.J. Wilkinson, Nutrition risk screening in community living older people attending medical or falls prevention services. Nutrition & Dietetics, 2010. 67(2): p. 84-89.
  6. Ministry of Health, Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Older People: A background paper, 2013, Ministry of Health: Wellington.

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