Malnutrition: the silent epidemic that is everyone’s business

Westmead Hospital Dietetics team

Known as the silent epidemic, malnutrition is estimated to effect between 35 and 43 per cent of patients in Australian hospitals which can have huge implications on quality of life and ultimately lead to poor medical outcomes.

This week is National Malnutrition Week – a time to recognise and bring attention to the staggering rates of malnutrition in Australian communities and healthcare settings.

In all its forms, malnutrition includes undernutrition (leading to wasting, stunting, and people being underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related non-communicable diseases.

Westmead Hospital deputy head of dietetics and nutrition, Ashwini Chand, said that as a dietitian, it is essential to offer patients practical dietary advice to help them meet their nutritional needs and improve their health.

“At Westmead Hospital, the dietitian assistants screen almost every newly admitted patient for nutrition risk using the malnutrition screening tool. Patients with scores over 2 are considered at risk,” she said.

“Being malnourished increases a patient’s risk of acute health implications. These can include having reduced immunity, loss of muscle mass and physical capacity, develop complications such as pressure injuries/ulcers and infection and poor wound healing.

“We want to improve the quality of life of patients in western Sydney.”

Westmead Hospital deputy head of dietetics and nutrition, Ashwini Chand

This year’s theme for Malnutrition Week is “Malnutrition is everybody’s business”.

It spotlights the shared responsibility of healthcare staff, families and patients to identify, treat and prevent malnutrition.

Throughout Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD), food service staff, doctors, nurses, dietitians, families and even patients themselves all have an important part in malnutrition awareness.

Ashwini said that early detection is often vital to restoring patient’s health.

“It is the simple things like alerting clinical staff if you notice someone regularly leaving meals uneaten, helping patients to make menu choices and encouraging patients to enjoy regular meals and snacks that can help us identify at-risk patients and get them the help that they need,” Ashwini said.

“Malnutrition can prolong one’s hospital stay and severely reduce their quality of life.

“You have to ask yourself, is this what I would want for my mother, brother, friend or a loved one?”

If you suspect you or someone you know may be at risk of malnutrition, seek professional dietetics advice, and refer patients to dietitians.

The WSLHD Dietetics departments can be contacted on:

  • Blacktown Mount Druitt Hospitals – 02 9881 8000
  • Westmead Hospital – 02 8890 6638
  • Auburn Hospital – 02 8759 3148