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UK group urges adoption of nutritional standard to lower malnutrition risk

By Jane Byrne , 11-Oct-2010

One in ten older people in the UK are at risk from malnutrition according to a report released today by advocates calling for government adoption of newly devised guidelines aimed at improving the nutritional intake of the elderly in state backed meal provision services.

And the report ‘Personalisation, Nutrition and the Role of Community Meals’ from the International Longevity Centre (ILC) in collaboration with the National Association of Care Catering (NACC) is urging the government to produce nutrition advice and information applicable to the needs of older people.

Cost implications

Malnutrition is a heavy burden for society as it leads to increased mortality, longer hospital stays, increased complications and decreased quality of life for patients. Studies have estimated the cost of malnutrition to the healthcare systems at £7.5bn in the UK and €9bn in Germany.

Many older people in residential care, said the NACC, who suffer from conditions such as Alzheimer's are seeing their illness deteriorate further due to bad nutrition and lack of care.

Data from the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (Bapen) shows that 40 per cent of all patients admitted to hospital are already malnourished when they go in, with malnutrition in care homes estimated to range from 30 to 42 per cent of all residents.

New standard

The NACC, which promotes the standard of catering in residential homes and other care services, said it has drawn up a new nutrition standard aiming to ensure elderly people receive all the nutrients they need and lowering the risk of malnutrition.

“The standard not only provides a clear benchmark for the nutritional content of food, but also gives guidance on hydration, food intolerances, special dietary requirements and food labelling,” said the agency, which is urging the government to take up the gauntlet on nationwide adoption of the nutritional guidelines.

The NACC said that the lack of nutrition standard in this sector has led to problems for local governmental authorities in regulating services, causing huge variations in nutritional care throughout the UK.

The agency also maintains that residential care services should use screening tools such as Bapen’s Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST) to identify the risk, and lead to services being put in place to prevent further deterioration in malnutrition levels.

Targeted advice needed

The advocates claim that current government nutrition guidance does not consider the risk of malnutrition in older people, particularly in those over 80.

“The main focus of the [Food Standards Agency] FSA in reducing saturated fat intake in the general population is vital to maintaining the health of the nation and preventing diet related ill health, however, in older people there is a direct correlation in the reduction of animal fats in the diet and the fact that some older people are becoming thinner,” states the report.

The current Dietary Recommended Values (DRVs) for older people should be reviewed by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), claim the agencies.

“The current DRVs have not been reviewed since 1992 and as new research has led to the whole population figures being re-examined, it is vital that the unique nutritional needs of older people are considered separately,” they argue.

The two agencies are additionally calling for a government department directly responsible for the issue of nutritional wellbeing in older people as a key public health priority.

Elderly consumers

According to Nestlé, which earlier this year launched a nutrient drink targeting the malnourished elderly, 50 per cent of older adults eat less protein than is recommended, more than 55 per cent do not meet calcium requirements, 90 per cent are Vitamin D deficient, and 30 per cent have inadequate zinc, selenium and Vitamin B9 (folate) intake.

The Swiss food group claims the drink – Resource SeniorActiv – which is being sold through pharmacies, principally via doctor and medical professional recommendation, had dosages of vitamin D and calcium sufficient to reduce likelihood of bone fractures and falls.

And the food giant said the Nestlé Research Centre is increasingly concerned with devising products that can benefit the ageing population, with muscle wasting in the elderly an area a primary focus as it did not have a huge body of science behind it.

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