Malnutrition in both children and adults is a serious problem in poor nations around the world. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, about 925 million people in the world are undernourished. Most of the people who suffer malnutrition live in third-world countries. In the United States, malnutrition is most likely to affect the elderly, rather than children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 3,000 adults die in the U.S. every year from malnutrition. Mortality is more likely in people over 70. Poverty, eating disorders or long convalescences after being ill top the list for malnutrition causes in the U.S.
In the elderly, malnutrition is usually due to digestion and absorption problems, rather than lack of food. Loss of appetite, sometimes connected to illness, also causes them to eat less. When unsupervised and sometimes forced to eat, many can ignore meal times or simply forget to eat. MayoClinic.com says that many older adults suffer from depression due to the death of a partner, lack of social contact or poor mobility. This can lead to a loss of interest in food and result in malnutrition. Alcoholism also can lead to malnutrition in adults of all ages because it affects appetite and absorption of nutrients.
Symptoms of malnutrition are hard to identify because they're common signs that can also appear during other illnesses. Severe weight loss can be a sign of malnutrition. Other symptoms to look for include anemia, fatigue, muscle weakness and frequent infections, which can be a sign of a weak immune system.
Once diagnosed as malnourished, the patient's treatment depends on the level of malnutrition. It also depends on whether the person can eat by himself or needs to have assistance with feeding. Intravenous or tube feeding might be options if the person is not eating. Intravenous or parenteral feeding is often a choice for people with stomach or intestine problems who cannot properly absorb nutrients from food. Patients will also need a special diet that contains additional calories to help regain any lost weight.
- World Hunger Education Service: 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics
- Medical News Today; What Is Malnutrition? What Causes Malnutrition?; Christian Nordqvist; 2010
- MayoClinic.com: Senior Health: How to Detect and Prevent Malnutrition
- CNN; Malnutrition Killing Elderly in U.S.; Madison Park; 2010