At the end of the BDA’s first malnutrition week, I thought it was only right to write a lil blog post for it – if you’re a Dietitian or Nutritionist then you will know all about how exciting this is for us as a community… if you’re not then, hi.. let me tell you all about the importance of raising awareness of malnutrition.
So, what is malnutrition? Not eating enough? Not getting enough nutrients? Well, yes this is one part of the problem, but there’s also another side you probably didn’t think of. Obesity is in fact, the other end of the scale of malnutrition.
Malnutrition is defined as ‘deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients’ (World Health Organisation), falling into two categories: ‘overnutrition’ (obesity) and ‘undernutrition’ (stunting, wasting and anorexia). WHO states that micronutrient deficiencies are part of undernutrition, but I think it’s important to highlight that anyone of any weight can be undernourished in micronutrients. In society, food is built of macros. It’s convenient, it’s quick. You could be eating plenty but if you’re not eating the right things (fruit and veggies especially!!) then you’ll be undernourished. Consequences of overnutrition include cancer, heart disease and liver disease, in which can be prevented (yes, many types of cancer such as lung CAN be prevented) and are now a bigger killer in the world than undernutrition.
Asides from the almost ‘visible’ and immediate signs of malnutrition (such as weight gain or loss), malnutrition can have burdens on life in other ways. Here’s some little simple pics to explain (because visual education = fave).
So why act? Nutrition doesn’t just impact you now in the moment, but it determines the rest of your life. It determines your children’s life too and continues through the life cycle. It helps education, it helps society, it tackles HUGE diseases. Good nutrition can fight disease and help aid your body to be stronger when it needs to fight. I know I go on about it allllll the time, but food. It’s SO important. Good food is important.
So many people don’t have access to food. It’s not just in developing countries (many who still don’t have access to clean drinking water… come on it’s 2018??), but in developed countries such as our own (hey UK babes). Food poverty is a thing all over the world. It’s estimated that nearly 600,000 a year use food banks in the UK. And it’s not just the homeless as you’d expect. It’s students, it’s working mothers who are struggling to meet ends meet, it’s people who don’t have access to shops and local convenience. It’s important as Dietitians and Nutritionists, we both educate cheap healthy cooking, but also promote and campaign for cheaper, healthier fresher food, with more access to these in the community. Think about it… how far is your local shop? Now if you were disabled, how would you get there? What about if you were elderly and struggled to walk? What about if you hadn’t got a car? It’s difficult for so many people, supermarkets are a privilege many of us don’t even realise we have.
However, in our ageing population, wasting is most common, with 3 million people malnourished or at risk.. Ways to spot this for yourself or on family members or friends can be easier than you think. Vital signs are not only visible weight loss, but loose rings and jewellery, clothes becoming baggy, disinterested in foods or activities, low mood and poor enthusiasm and even things such as hair loss and weak nails. If you spot signs like this and you’re eating a healthy, balanced, varied diet, then it’s best to go to your doctors or GP who can refer you on to a Dietitian to find the problem. It may be something you don’t realise, such as anaemia or coeliac disease (but remember! Never self diagnose! It’s terrible for your mental health and you could be depriving yourself of nutrients and medication you might need).
We can do little things to help, whether that is in practise or in general life. Has someone eaten today? Has a patient got access to snacks and fresh, chilled water? If someones struggling with weight, fortify their food (this includes adding extra butter on toast, cheese in pasta or using a fuller fat milk), are people taking their meds and supplements? How many takeaways are you having a week compared to how many veggies and fresh meals you’re having? Have you popped round to have a chat and a snack with your elderly neighbour lately? It can be hard to process and a lot to take in, but you never know, you may just save a life or improve someones health.