Introduction to Malnutrition

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a state of nutrition in which a deficiency or excess (or imbalance) of energy, protein and other nutrients causes measurable adverse effects on tissue / body form (body shape, size and composition) and function and clinical outcome. The term malnutrition includes obesity, however BAPEN is focused on the problem of “undernutrition”. The term “malnutrition” is used on this website to mean “undernutrition”. For further information on obesity please go to NHS Choices website.

What are the signs and symptoms of malnutrition?

Malnutrition can be difficult to recognise, particularly in patients who are overweight or obese to start with. Malnutrition may happen gradually, making it difficult to detect in the early stages. Some of the signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss – clothes, rings, jewellery, dentures may become loose
  • Tiredness, loss of energy
  • Reduced ability to perform normal tasks
  • Reduced physical performance – for example, not being able to walk as far or as fast as usual
  • Altered mood – malnutrition is associated with lethargy and depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor growth in children

Who is at risk of malnutrition?