Malnutrition a problem close to home

When we hear the word ‘malnutrition’ many people tend to think of third-world countries, famines and natural disasters.

But malnutrition can be a problem much closer to home, even in a relatively prosperous country like Australia – and even in regional Victoria.

To help raise awareness of malnutrition issues, Australia’s first ever Malnutrition Week is being held from 6-9 October.

Malnutrition can happen for a variety of reasons. It occurs when the body does not get enough nutrition from food and drinks. It can happen if a person’s nutritional needs have increased or they are unable to eat enough variety or volume of foods to meet their needs.

It’s possible to eat plenty of food but still be malnourished.

Loss of energy and strength and lowered immunity can impact on our ability to do things that are important to us, so these and other symptoms of malnutrition should be detected and treated at the first opportunity.

Malnutrition Week aims to raise awareness within the community and highlight the not so well-known signs and symptoms that someone may be at risk.

Some see malnutrition as being a problem mainly afflicting older people, particularly those unwell in hospital or in residential aged care. Although reduced functional capacity or loss of strength can occur as a natural part of ageing, inadequate nutrition can speed this process up.

Malnutrition is reported to affect up to 30% of people within the community and is increasingly being understood as a condition that impacts people across all life stages.

Another common belief is that you can tell a person is malnourished by the way they look. This is simply not the case. Unintentional loss of weight, regardless of body size, is an indicator that someone may be at risk of malnutrition.

Other subtle changes to a person’s life may also be indicators. Signs might include someone not eating as much as usual, having difficulty with tasks in the kitchen like opening jars or holding pots and pans, losing balance and falling more often, dentures or jewellery becoming loose fitting, persistent wounds or recurring illness.

Dietitians are trained to identify risk factors of malnutrition and to support people to meet their nutritional needs. If you think you or someone you know could be at risk of malnutrition talk to your GP about a referral to an Accredited Practising Dietitian.