In a sample of 414 patients aged 75, only 73 (17.6 per cent) were well-nourished, they report in this month's issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (vol 82, no 4, pp784-791).
The findings confirm trends seen elsewhere in the world.
The authors say that although malnutrition is prevalent in elderly populations, the recommended methods of nutritional screening are often too complicated and time-consuming for routine application in frail, very old, hospitalized patients.
Yet their findings show the need to improve screening of nutritional status.
Dietary habits were found to be an independent predictor of mortality among the study sample.
A new European charity has recently warned that malnutrition will affect growing numbers of elderly Europeans as governments focus their efforts on tackling obesity.
The European Nutrition for Health Alliance says malnutrition is already endemic among the elderly, and with the number of 80-year-olds doubling every decade, the problem is set to get worse.
In the new study, the Israeli researchers assessed demographic, clinical, and laboratory data on the cohort and then looked at cognitive, functional, and nutritional status in the subjects, following them over a period of nearly three years
Low scores on a test for dietary habits (Mini Nutritional Assessment) was an independent predictor of mortality; scores lower than 7.5 more than doubled the risk of death.
These were also significantly correlated with laboratory indexes of malnutrition and were significantly lower in patients with infections, malignancy, pressure ulcers, dementia, recent orthopedic surgery, and CVA.