Can you spot the signs of malnutrition?

You can’t tackle a problem without first spotting it. Accordingly, there are calls for routine screening of patients in hospitals and aged care facilities, particularly to identify less obvious indicators of unintentional weight loss.

Spotting the problem

Generally, staff and family should look out for these signs of malnutrition at home or in care:

  1. Feeling Tired, Weak or Dizzy

Food provides calories and essential nutrients needed to produce energy. Insufficient nutrition intake can result in tiredness, weakness and dizziness. A clue here could be reduced levels of mobility. Look out for diminished muscle mass – a risk factor for sarcopenia.

  1. Depression, Low Mood

It’s commonly recognised that depression can affect people’s appetite. But nutrients from food – carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals – are also vital for healthy brain function. Not getting enough can impact mood and even lead to major depression.

  1. Poor Appetite

As previously indicated, aging and some medications can alter taste and appetite. Eating less can, in turn, reduce appetite, so this is something to look out for.

  1. Teeth and Gums

You can’t fool your dentist. Teeth and gums are a key indicator of nutrition and health status. Swollen or bleeding gums are early oral symptoms of malnutrition. If malnutrition progresses, it can cause irreversible tooth decay.

  1. Hair & Nails

Check brushes and clothes for excess hair. Hair loss and lack lustre hair can reflect poor nutrition status, particularly insufficient protein and iron. Nails also become dry, brittle and discoloured if essential nutrients are lacking. When iron levels drop too low, nails can start curling upwards, signalling possible iron-deficiency anaemia.

  1. Infections and Wound Healing

Our immune system needs nutrients to prevent and ward off disease. Frequent illness and infections can reveal poor nutrition status. Also be on the watch for easy bruising and wounds that don’t heal easily.

  1. Bowel Habits

Chronic constipation can signal insufficient food intake to mobilise the digestive tract; it can also reflect inadequate fibre and/or dehydration – common in older adults. Conversely, watch out for persistent diarrhoea because this can decrease nutrient absorption and exacerbate malnutrition.


Our Cost of Malnutrition report outlines the problem of malnutrition and its various costs – both financial and physical – and offers a guide to its identification and management.

Download your free report HERE

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