This blog was contributed by Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of the Malnutrition Task Force and Age UK
This week is Nutrition and Hydration Week, a brilliant campaign which raises awareness and celebrates food and drink as a way of maintaining health and wellbeing.
I’m certain that no-one doubts the importance of food. It gives us the nutrients we need for energy and to stay healthy; it helps us to stay sharp mentally; it can boost our wellbeing and generally keep us happy.
But let’s not just think in practical terms – the aroma of your favourite food as it drifts into the senses, and the sensations we feel as it hits our taste buds are some of the great pleasures in life. Most importantly, food is something we should continue to look forward to.
Food is so vital to every one of us and we should all strive to eat well and sufficiently throughout our lives.
However, that isn’t always the case.
Although many of us believe that malnutrition, or undernutrition, has been confined to the history books, the reality is different. In the UK, 1 in 10 older people – around 1 million altogether – are undernourished or at risk of undernourishment.
Getting thinner isn’t normal
Undernourishment often occurs because there is a perception that getting thinner is ‘normal’ in later life and that being overweight is more of a concern.
New research from the Malnutrition Task Force shows over a third of people (36%) in later life think it’s normal to lose weight as you get older, and over half thought being very overweight was a bigger issue for them.
However, these are myths. It is not natural to lose weight in later life and it’s certainly not healthy to be either overweight or underweight.
As well as making you feel unwell, being undernourished can slow down recovery from illness or surgery.
So keeping a stable weight is what we should all be striving for in later life.
What you can do
With many of us believing that it’s normal to get thinner in later life, it’s easy for weight to drop off without noticing.
However, there are many things we can do to stop this from happening. In the first instance, it’s important to be aware of the signs.
Looking at our clothes can give us an idea. Loose fitting clothes, jewellery slipping off and tightening belt buckles an extra notch can all be signs of not eating enough.
Health and wellbeing are also indicators. Changes in mood, catching more colds, finding it difficult to keep warm and becoming tired easily are other signs of weight loss.
If you are concerned about weight loss in yourself or someone you care for, visit a GP. They will be able to rule out any serious illnesses, and will be able to refer on to a dietitian if more specialist advice is needed.
Before heading to the GP, you may want to consider the handy Malnutrition Self Screening Tool. This online application can tell you your undernourishment risk, and whether you should follow this up with advice from a healthcare professional, simply from your height and weight.
The Malnutrition Task Force have also produce two guides, one aimed at those in later life and the other at carers, packed with tips and advice on how to keep to a healthy weight in later life. For instance, did you know that if you have a small appetite, eating small meals or snacks six times a day may be more manageable than three big meals?
Obesity not the only problem
We all know that obesity causes serious health problems, but this Nutrition and Hydration Week I am keen that we remember there are consequences if we don’t eat enough and lose weight.
Getting thinner is not a normal part of ageing and we must be aware of the signs and what action to take if weight starts to drop off.
By knowing these important nuggets of information, we can go far in improving our health in later life.
This blog first appeared on the Malnutrition Task Force website