Science - September 10, 2009

Tackling malnutrition in the EU

Dr. Jeanne de Vries of Human Nutrition: 'Undernourishment in Europe has received very little attention until recently, but that's changing now.'

It is estimated that five to fifteen percent of the EU population, about thirty million people, are undernourished. The costs of the problem are considerable: 170 billion euros, three times more than the costs related to obesity. Dr. Jeanne de Vries: 'We've known for years that undernourishment is not restricted to developing countries but happens here too. Hospitals are paying a lot more attention to this problem these days. Patients are routinely checked for excessive weight loss. And at last the problem is getting some attention from the government.  'If there is weight loss of five to ten percent in three to six months, there is a risk of undernourishment. The risks are particularly high among the elderly, mainly due to illness and neglect, but sometimes because their social situation causes loss of appetite.  Another high-risk group is the chronically sick, especially those with gastrointestinal diseases. Twenty to forty percent of hospital patients belong to this risk category. This adds to costs due to their higher chances of complications and extended hospital stays.'If you look specifically at the needs of the elderly, you can solve much of the problem. Costs can be cut by screening patients needing an operation for undernourishment before they go into hospital. If their nutritional status is unsatisfactory, you can improve it in time. 'In Ede we have started working with GPs to find out how big the problem is. We are also working closely with the Gelderse Vallei hospital to see how we can tackle the problem in a way that is scientifically sound.'

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