Assessing Malnutrition in Adults: Physical Indicators of Malnutrition

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By Enise Ucran

Malnutrition is a serious condition. Contrary to popular belief, malnutrition is present not only in developing countries but also in developed countries as well. 3 Because of this, it is crucial to increase awareness of this condition.

Malnutrition: What is it?

Although there are many definitions of malnutrition, malnutrition is generally defined as the deficiency or excess of energy and nutrients. 1 Malnutrition occurs when an individual’s net nutrient intake does not meet the daily amount of nutrients recommended. 1 Inflammatory activity due to inadequate nutrient consumption can lead to malnutrition as well. 3 When untreated, malnutrition can negatively impact many aspects of an individual’s health, and lead to many health complications.

Physical Indicators of Malnutrition

Inadequate intake of important nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat can result in many negative changes in the body. Because of this, physical symptoms are a common way to assess malnutrition.

Loss of Body Mass

Loss of body mass is a common physical symptom of malnutrition. When an individual does not receive the number of nutrients needed, an inflammatory response occurs. This response causes stress in the body, resulting in loss of body mass and muscle. Loss of body mass can lead to several physical complications, such as: delayed wound healing, reduced organ function, increased infection susceptibility, and death. 3

Skin Changes

In severe cases, malnutrition can also result in skin changes, such as dryness or discoloration. Skin changes occur due to inadequate consumption of nutrients essential for skin maintenance, such as amino acids, fatty acids, and certain vitamins. 2

Raising awareness of malnutrition can be significant in reducing these physical indicators as well as other health complications that may occur due to malnutrition.

References
  1. Duerksen, D. R., Laporte, M., & Jeejeebhoy, K. (2021). Evaluation of Nutrition Status Using the Subjective Global Assessment: Malnutrition, Cachexia, and Sarcopenia. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 36(5), 942–956. Evaluation of Nutrition Status Using the Subjective Global Assessment: Malnutrition, Cachexia, and Sarcopenia – PubMed (nih.gov)
  2. Heilskov, S., Vestergaard, C., & Deleuran, M. S. (n.d.). Defining and assessing skin changes in severe acute malnutrition (SAM).  Defining and Assessing Skin Changes in Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) | SpringerLink  Springer International Publishing.
  3. Soeters, P. B. & Schols, A. M. (2009). Advances in understanding and assessing malnutrition. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 12 (5), 487-494. Advances in understanding and assessing malnutrition – PubMed (nih.gov)
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