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Malnutrition Matters

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Malnutrition Matters

Malnutrition Awareness Week is observed from October 4-8 and is a great time to discuss what malnutrition means and why it matters. Many of us think malnutrition occurs only in impoverished countries, but malnutrition is a problem affecting many people on a daily basis, especially older adults, patients with cancer, or other chronic illnesses. Patients with malnutrition are more likely to be admitted to the hospital, stay hospitalized for longer, and are more likely to be readmitted. Malnutrition also delays wound healing, increases risk of falls, and increases risk of side effects from cancer treatments. Read below for some warning signs of malnutrition, especially if you or a loved one is elderly or has a chronic disease:

  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Change in appetite (e.g., eating less than half of meals, eating only once a day vs. three times/day)
  • Noticeable muscle loss or decrease in strength
  • Swelling around abdomen, feet, ankles or legs

If your appetite is poor, eating small frequent meals of energy dense foods can be helpful. Ideas include trail mix, peanut butter, whole fat Greek yogurt and granola, or egg salad and crackers. Oral nutrition supplement drinks can also be helpful for meeting calorie and protein needs when appetite is poor. If you are able to engage in physical activity, resistance training can help preserve lean body mass and rebuild lost muscle and strength. Checking your weight weekly is helpful for monitoring progress.

If you are concerned you may be at risk for malnutrition or are currently malnourished, it is important to discuss your concerns with your doctor or healthcare team. Early intervention is always recommended to improve nutrition status. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian can be helpful for patients having difficulty meeting nutrition needs. Outpatient services are available in many areas, including the John H. “Jack” Burbage Regional Cancer Care Center and Atlantic Health Center in Berlin, MD.