Malnutrition in Hospitalized Adults: A Systematic Review

Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2021 Oct. Report No.: 21(22)-EHC035.
Uhl, S., Siddique, S. M., McKeever, L., Bloschichak, A., D’Anci, K., Leas, B., Mull, N. K., & Tsou, A. Y.


Objectives: To review the association between malnutrition and clinical outcomes among hospitalized patients, evaluate effectiveness of measurement tools for malnutrition on clinical outcomes, and assess effectiveness of hospital-initiated interventions for patients diagnosed with malnutrition.

Data sources: We searched electronic databases (Embase®, MEDLINE®, PubMed®, and the Cochrane Library) from January 1, 2000, to June 3, 2021. We hand-searched reference lists of relevant studies and searched for unpublished studies in

Review methods: Using predefined criteria and dual review, we selected (1) existing systematic reviews (SRs) to assess the association between malnutrition and clinical outcomes, (2) randomized and non-randomized studies to evaluate the effectiveness of malnutrition tools on clinical outcomes, and (3) randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to assess effectiveness of hospital-initiated treatments for malnutrition. Clinical outcomes of interest included mortality, length of stay, 30-day readmission, quality of life, functional status, activities of daily living, hospital acquired conditions, wound healing, and discharge disposition. When appropriate, we conducted meta-analysis to quantitatively summarize study findings; otherwise, data were narratively synthesized. When available, we used pooled estimates from existing SRs to determine the association between malnutrition and clinical outcomes, and assessed the strength of evidence.

Results: Six existing SRs (including 43 unique studies) provided evidence on the association between malnutrition and clinical outcomes. Low to moderate strength of evidence (SOE) showed an association between malnutrition and increased hospital mortality and prolonged hospital length of stay. This association was observed across patients hospitalized for an acute medical event requiring intensive care unit care, heart failure, and cirrhosis. Literature searches found no studies that met inclusion criteria and assessed effectiveness of measurement tools. The primary reason studies did not meet inclusion criteria is because they lacked an appropriate control group. Moderate SOE from 11 RCTs found that hospital-initiated malnutrition interventions likely reduce mortality compared with usual care among hospitalized patients diagnosed with malnutrition. Low SOE indicated that hospital-initiated malnutrition interventions may also improve quality of life compared to usual care.

Conclusions: Evidence shows an association between malnutrition and increased mortality and prolonged length of hospital stay among hospitalized patients identified as malnourished. However, the strength of this association varied depending on patient population and tool used to identify malnutrition. Evidence indicates malnutrition-focused hospital-initiated interventions likely reduce mortality and may improve quality of life compared to usual care among patients diagnosed with malnutrition. Research is needed to assess the clinical utility of measurement tools for malnutrition.

Information NutriBib

Reference work for leading, current and selected literature in the field of clinical nutrition

Publications on clinical nutrition have grown steadily in recent years and the scientific evidence has been improved by numerous observational as well as intervention studies. Various umbrella organisations, such as the Swiss Society for Clinical Nutrition (GESKES), the German Society for Nutritional Medicine (DGEM) or the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) publish guidelines on nutrition in various clinical situations at regular intervals. Thus, a large amount of literature is available for evidence-based nutritional medicine.

The NutriBib aims to filter out authoritative publications in the various fields of nutritional medicine and thus to provide an overview of the abundance of literature. A large number of experienced nutrition experts contributed to the selection of relevant sources and allow a broadly based selection. Nevertheless, the literature selection cannot be considered exhaustive. Specific literature can be found by entering search words (using the magnifying glass at the top right) or by searching the table of contents.

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List of abbreviations

DGEM German Society for Nutritional Medicine (German Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährungsmedizin)
GESKES  Swiss Society for Clinical Nutrition (German Gesellschaft für klinische Ernährung der Schweiz) 
ESPEN European Society of Clinicl Nutrition and Metabolism