Malnutrition, a Public Health Issue for Older Adults

Malnutrition and undernutrition are concerns among older adults, particularly those living alone or with limited access to nutritious food.

Helpful Highlights

  • Malnutrition is a significant public health issue for older adults due to several reasons.

  • Given these factors, addressing malnutrition among older adults is essential for promoting healthy aging, maintaining independence, preventing adverse health outcomes, and reducing healthcare costs.

  • Public health efforts aimed at identifying and addressing risk factors for malnutrition, promoting access to nutritious food, providing nutrition education and counseling, and integrating nutrition screening and assessment into healthcare settings are critical for improving the nutritional status and well-being of older adults.

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Increased vulnerability

Older adults are more vulnerable to malnutrition due to physiological changes associated with aging, such as decreased appetite, changes in taste and smell, dental problems, reduced gastrointestinal function, and impaired absorption of nutrients. These factors can lead to inadequate intake of essential nutrients, putting your loved one at risk of malnutrition.

Chronic health conditions

Many older adults have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders that can affect their nutritional status. These conditions may increase nutrient requirements, alter nutrient metabolism, or interfere with the ability to eat and digest food, further exacerbating the risk of malnutrition.


Your loved one may take multiple medications to manage their health conditions, which can have side effects such as appetite suppression, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and impaired nutrient absorption. Polypharmacy can contribute to nutritional deficiencies and increase the risk of malnutrition.

Social and economic factors

Social and economic factors such as limited income, social isolation, living alone, lack of transportation, and inadequate access to nutritious food can contribute to malnutrition. These factors may prevent your loved one from obtaining and preparing healthy meals, leading to poor dietary intake and malnutrition.

Functional decline

Functional decline associated with aging, such as loss of mobility, fine motor skills, and cognitive impairment, can affect your loved one's ability to shop for groceries, prepare meals, and feed themselves. Functional limitations can lead to dependence on you for food assistance and increase the risk of malnutrition.

Adverse health outcomes

Malnutrition among older adults is associated with adverse health outcomes such as weakened immune function, impaired wound healing, muscle wasting, and increased risk of infections, falls, hospitalizations, and mortality (death). Malnourished older adults are also more susceptible to complications from chronic diseases and have longer hospital stays and higher healthcare costs.

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Elderly man is smiling at his relative caregiver