Last week was the first UK Malnutrition Awareness Week. And I don’t mean malnutrition in developing nations or in war torn countries. Malnutrition is a huge issue in the UK and Europe. It surprises people that malnutrition in developed nations cost more per year than the effects of obesity. The most recent estimate is £19.6 billion pounds per year in the UK. That is a lot of money especially when with proper screening and some simple interventions can do so much. Malnutrition is preventable. This infographic summarises the problem.
We often hear stories of malnutrition in hospitals but it is not widely known that many of those malnourished patients were malnourished on admission, indeed if the malnutrition had been addressed at home the patient may not have needed to go to hospital. Roughly 93% of malnutrition is in the community and it affects those over 65 years the most.
Malnutrition very often develops slowly. There is slow, steady, unintentional weight loss caused by gradually eating less due to being less active and having a smaller appetite. There is a myth that weight loss just happens when you get older, that this is normal and to be expected. However, this is something that should be challenged. That unintentional weight loss is generally a sign that a person is not eating enough to keep them healthy. Continually eating less than you need is going to put you at risk of malnutrition, something that has a massive effect on quality of life.
Malnutrition Task Force, who were a big part of the Awareness Week, have useful information on how to eat if you or someone you know has a small appetite and may be at risk from malnutrition. People who are most at risk from malnutrition are older people, those with a long term health condition that reduces movement and makes eating difficult, dementia and those living on their own but are not so mobile or have mental health issues.
If you know someone who might be eating too little then there are little things that can be helpful.
- Popping round and bringing something to eat – even if it just a cake to have with a cup of tea. Making the cup of tea and sitting to have a chat makes all the difference.
- Offering to take them to the supermarket if it is difficult for them to get out, they can’t drive or carry things easily home.
- Offering to pick up some shopping. Make sure that it is things that are needed and will be used – don’t buy a kilo of mince because it is cheap and freeze it in one great lump – it will stay in the freezer. Make sure you know what the person would like – ask about the brand they prefer, the amount they want etc. No point in buying food that will not be eaten.
- Pre-prepared foods and ready meals have a bad press but can be a godsend to someone who has a low appetite and doesn’t feel up to cooking. Context matters.
- Little desserts are perfect to have after a small meal or a small savoury snack.
- Energy dense foods are perfect for someone with a small appetite. Lots of foods that those of us with a big appetite need to be careful not to eat too much of are exactly the kind of thing that is helpful for someone who is losing weight and not eat. Again, context matters.
- Nutritious long life foods that make good small meals or snacks are great to buy for their store cupboard. Tiny cans of tuna, baked beans, mini pita breads in long life sealed packs, crackers, nuts and dried fruit, peanut butter, fruit cake, cuppa soups etc.
- Is there a lunch club locally that provides a volunteer transport service? Can you arrange a trial run?
Small things can make a big difference.