Dietitian Emily Walters worked with us on our disease-related malnutrition project. In this guest post she explains why the work is so important.

Malnutrition is all too often perceived as a third world issue, yet it is prevalent in the UK. It is estimated that more than three million people are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.1 Yes you read that right - three million people!

Malnutrition, that is to say poor nutrition, can result from problems accessing food due to poverty or other social issues as well as illness or a medical condition. Being unwell can make it more difficult to eat enough food or increase nutritional needs putting such individuals at risk of disease-related malnutrition.

Good and bad news

Experiencing malnutrition can slow recovery from illness, lead to longer hospital stays and increase the chance of developing infections. Research shows more need for nursing or GP support for those with disease-related malnutrition living at home and a greater risk of readmission to hospital. Importantly, malnutrition can also impact mood, strength, activity levels and quality of life. 

The good news is that there are things patients can do at home to help themselves. The bad news is that finding the right information, support and advice can be difficult. Navigating the healthcare system or internet to find relevant, trusted advice and support is challenging. Many healthcare professionals are also unsure about how to identify or best manage disease-related malnutrition. 

Listening to patients

This project listened to patients about their experiences. They said they needed clearer information explaining disease-related malnutrition, as well as the oral nutritional supplements that are sometimes used to treat this condition. Effective sign posting to trusted advice and information was also needed.

With patients and family carers at the heart of this project, their shared experiences and ideas helped in understanding how best to proceed. Feedback on the fact sheets helped ensure they provided the right information and support for patients, were easy to read, understand and use.

The animation offers another way for patients to access this information. The dedicated page on the Patients Association website supports easier Internet navigation, signposting users to the many excellent existing sources of advice and information for those with concerns about eating or unintended weight loss due to illness or a medical condition.

Giving confidence to patients

My hope is that the fact sheets, animation and webpage developed through the project will help to give patients with a medical condition or illness a better understanding of why they may have problems with eating or unintended weight loss and give them the confidence to take action.

In this way conversations can begin with opportunity for development of a partnership in nutritional care between patient and healthcare professional.  Such a partnership helps ensure the patient is heard, concerns are discussed, and the most appropriate treatment agreed for that patient to support nutritional health and wellbeing.

Our disease-related malnutrition resources are available here.
1. ELIA, M. 2015. The cost of malnutrition in England and potential cost savings from nutritional interventions (full report). British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition and National Institute for Health Research Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.