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Disease-related malnutrition in elderly people costs the UK up to £4billion a year

Published: 24 February 2003

A University of Southampton scientist claims thousands of pensioners are malnourished.

Professor Marinos Elia of the University's Institute of Human Nutrition is calling on doctors and nurses to spend a few minutes to check whether their patients are malnourished. He says this simple procedure, linked to an appropriate care plan, could radically improve health and save the NHS enormous sums of money.

"Undernourished people have a greater risk of illness, a poorer recovery from illness and a poorer quality of life overall. Research shows elderly people admitted to hospital, who have unintentionally lost more than 5-10% of their body weight over the preceding six months are likely to have a treatable underlying condition," he said.

Professor Elia and his colleagues on the Malnutrition Advisory Group of the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, have devised a simple tool to help medical, nursing and other staff assess whether patients are malnourished. "I think it should become mandatory to screen all people on admission to hospital or residential home. We know 20 percent or more of people in institutions are at real risk of malnutrition."

This valid and reliable tool involves mainly measurements of weight and height, and a history of weight loss. Surrogate measures have been developed for those in whom these items cannot be obtained. Professor Elia said, "We have named the tool MUST, not only because its core elements are of importance to routine clinical practice, but also because the acronym stands for Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool. The tool can be performed on all patient groups, including underweight and obese groups, in all health care settings by a variety of health workers."

Work at the Institute of Human Nutrition in Southampton has shown that malnutrition is widespread in both hospitals and the community. It also reveals a north-south divide. Evidence from a secondary analysis of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey for people aged 65 years and over, shows that more people are malnourished in the north than south of England.

Development and trials of the tool to detect malnutrition are underway in various parts of the UK, but mainly in Southampton.

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Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.

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