The Causes and Consequences of Malnutrition

2 Dec, 2019

Malnutrition is a major contributor to poor health outcomes and reduced quality of life, particularly for elderly individuals where it is predicted that 32% of elderly Australians suffer from malnutrition.

Prolonged or severely reduced food intake can lead to physical and mental fatigue, reduced immune functions, delayed wound healing and muscle wasting.

Those most at risk of developing malnutrition include the elderly, those with increased nutritional needs, and those with conditions that reduce nutrition absorption.

In this post we’ll define malnutrition, examine its risk factors and identify what signs to look out for in yourself or your loved ones. Malnutrition can also be defined as an overconsumption of nutrients, however for this post we will only be discussing inadequate intake.

What is malnutrition

Malnutrition is caused by having a severe or prolonged period of inadequate energy and nutrient intake, this often occurs due to decreased food intake or increased metabolic needs. Consequences of malnutrition include decreased cognitive functions, physical exhaustion, muscle wasting, and delayed wound healing.

Why is it important to be aware of malnutrition?

Because malnutrition occurs over a long period of time, or as a secondary consequence of another issue, it is easy to go unnoticed or be overlooked. Without appropriate intervention, malnutrition can create a cycle of decreased food intake and reduced quality of life.

Causes of malnutrition:

All undernutrition malnutrition is caused by the body not being able to meet it’s metabolic needs from the food we provide it. Factors that can cause this metabolic imbalance include:

  • Increased metabolic needs.
    Sometimes the body needs to perform additional metabolic activities such as recover from surgery, infections and general wounds. In these circumstances our regular diet intake may not be adequate to match these increased needs
  • Medication side effects
    Some medications cause side effects such as loss of appetite and taste, nausea, drowsiness or fatigue, and shortness of breath. These side effects can reduce the amount of food we prepare and eat.
  • Food insecurity and reduced mobility
    Factors such as a small food budget and having minimal access to food stores impacts the quality and quantity of food in our pantries and fridges which goes on to impact how much food we eat. Having reduced mobility reduces the ability to cook and prepare food which can lead to smaller quantities or less nutritious foods on our plate.
  • Mental health and other medical conditions.
    Medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s and depression can interfere with our internal body clock and hunger cues leading us to skip meals and snacks.

Consequences of malnutrition:

Malnutrition can have many adverse side effects, these include:

  • Muscle wasting
    Our bodies prioritise our organs over our skeletal muscles. If we do not receive adequate protein from our diets our body begins to break down and use protein from our skeletal muscles to maintain our organ health.
  • Reduced cognitive abilities
    Our brains do not enjoy being underfed, being underfed can lead to feeling lethargic, irritability and irrational thinking.
  • Reduced Immunity, wound healing, and infection fighting
    reduced intake leads to reduced metabolic activity. Without getting enough food intake our body can’t devote adequate resources and processes to keeping us in a healthy state.

How to identify malnutrition in you or your loved ones:

It isn’t always easy to identify, and it’s not just thin people who can be malnourished. Here are some initial indicators that someone may be suffering from malnutrition:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Sunken eyes and/or hollow cheeks
  • Baggy or loose clothes that previously fit well
  • Reduced cognitive ability
  • Change in personality
  • Dry or thinning hair
  • Reduced mobility and strength

Malnutrition has a huge impact on our health and quality of life, there are many contributing factors to developing malnutrition and it might not be obvious to identify. By understanding its impact and what signs to look out for you can help to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition in Australia.

Consequences of Malnutrition

What to do now?

If you or someone you care for are suffering from malnutrition give us a call at Gen Physio, we have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing the lives of our clients. All of our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.


The presence of malnutrition in community-living older adults receiving home nursing services

RIST, G. , MILES, G. and KARIMI, L. (2012), The presence of malnutrition in community‐living older adults receiving home nursing services. Nutrition & Dietetics, 69: 46-50. doi:10.1111/j.1747-0080.2011.01572.x

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