5 questions you should be asking about malnutrition

Posted on Thursday, November 21, 2019

Chronic illness, serious injury, joint replacement – patients are admitted to the hospital for many reasons. What’s surprising to many patients and their families is that they arrive with another serious – and often undiagnosed - condition: malnutrition. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 50 percent of patients admitted to the hospital are malnourished. [1]

To address the problem of malnutrition in America, a partnership of key stakeholders and experts established the Malnutrition Quality Improvement Initiative (MQii), a nationwide, multi-year effort to highlight gaps in care for malnourished patients and to evaluate how those gaps affect medical outcomes. Today the MQii works with health care organizations to help them achieve better quality of care when identifying and treating malnutrition. MQii is focused on improving the quality of care for older adults who are malnourished – or are at risk for malnutrition -- when they are hospitalized by sharing quality improvement practices and a toolkit health care institutions can use to improve outcomes.

Patients and family members also have a role to play in understanding what malnutrition is and how it can be managed.

Malnutrition: 5 key questions

1. What is malnutrition?

Poor nutrition, or malnutrition, is the inadequate consumption of key nutrients over time that can lead to serious health issues.

2. How do people become malnourished?

Malnutrition can be caused by several factors:

  • Food insecurity -- When people don’t have consistent access to sufficient food – and a sufficient variety of foods – to support a healthy, active life they are considered “food insecure.” Poverty, unemployment, and even transportation issues can lead to food insecurity.
  • Poor dietary choices – People who have enough to eat but make consistently poor dietary choices can also be malnourished because they don’t take in the healthy nutrients their bodies need. Poor dietary choices can also impact people with chronic conditions. When people don’t eat the right foods for their condition, their disease can worsen.
  • Illness – Serious illness and chronic disease can reduce a person’s appetite and his or her ability to absorb the nutrients needed to remain healthy. The result is malnourishment, which can further complicate other medical conditions.

3. Is malnutrition really a problem in America?

Yes. Many people are surprised to learn that malnutrition is still an issue in the U.S. In fact, a 2018 study by the U. S. Department of Agriculture estimated that more than 37 million Americans live in food insecure households.[2]

4. How does malnutrition impact older Americans?

Malnutrition is a particular concern for older Americans. According to one study, up to one in two older adults is at risk for malnutrition.[3] Malnourishment in older adults who are hospitalized can complicate medical conditions and lead to longer hospital stays, higher rates of hospital-acquired infections, and higher readmission rates all of which drive up the cost of care to health care organizations and patients.[4]

5. How can I recognize malnutrition in patients, members, or family members?

Awareness is the first step. Helping the patient get screened for nutritional status is important. If the individual is malnourished or at risk, getting help to improve the person’s nutrition is critical, especially if the person has a medical condition that could lead to hospitalization. The more well-nourished a patient is going in to the hospital, the better the outcome and the less likely they’ll be readmitted.

The Malnutrition Quality Improvement Initiative has published a guide to help professionals and laypeople recognize the possible symptoms of malnutrition, including fat loss, muscle wastage, and dehydration.[5]

Determining the patient’s nutrition options is the next step. Start by learning what type of nutritional support – education, nutrition counseling, or even home delivered meals after a hospital stay -- they have through their health insurance provider.

Home delivered meals are a proven way to help malnourished individuals improve their nutrition and eliminate any issues with food insecurity. When medically and nutritionally-balanced home delivered meals are provided, they contribute better nutrition which improves disease prevention efforts, speeds recovery after hospital discharge, supports disease management efforts, and reduces hospital readmission rates.

A recent study showed home delivered, medically tailored meals for patients at nutritional risk reduced visits to the emergency room by 72 percent, hospital readmissions by 52 percent, and overall healthcare costs by 40 percent.[6]

Mom’s Meals is committed to improving the health and wellness of all populations and supporting access to proper nutrition for health equity. Click here to learn more.


1. http://malnutritionquality.org/why-malnutrition-matters.html

2. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx

3. Kaiser MJ, et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010;58(9):1734-1738.

4. http://malnutritionquality.org/index.html

5. http://malnutrition.com/static/pdf/mqii-malnutrition-recognition-guide.pdf

6. Seth A. Berkowitz, Jean Terranova, Caterina Hill, Toyin Ajay, Todd Linsky; Meal Delivery Programs Reduce the Use of Costly Health Care in Dually Eligible Medicare and Medicaid Beneficiaries, Health Affairs, Vol. 37, No. 4, April 2018.

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