Health Screenings Detect Iowans at Risk for Malnutrition

Iowa State University Researchers Conduct Nutrition Assessments for Older Iowans at Quad County Health Fair in Ottumwa

health screening OTTUMWA, Iowa — During the Quad County Health Fair, 36 older Iowans participated in Iowa State University nutritional assessments for people age 65 and older. Using new measurement tools that detect malnutrition in older adults, an Iowa State research team identified five of these Iowans as at risk for malnutrition.

“We thank all the participants for taking time to let us conduct these valuable assessments, not only to test our tools, but to provide a valuable community service that has now allowed five people to recognize that they are at risk for malnutrition — before they become malnourished,” said Barbara Anderson, a nutrition and health program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Some of the risk factors identified were limited dietary intake such as eating only one meal daily, taking more than three prescription medications daily or not eating adequate servings of dairy, protein, fruits or vegetables. Those who were identified as at risk were mailed additional information about how to reduce their nutritional risk, Anderson said.

The Iowa State research team developed the new malnutrition measurement tools, called the VIVA Gauge tools. On March 16, principle investigator Sarah Francis, Anderson, nutrition and health program specialist Patty Steiner and four Iowa State dietetic students conducted nutritional assessments at the Quad County Health Fair in Ottumwa. Francis is an assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist.

Malnutrition affects a large proportion of the older adult population. The National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging reports that among older adults who live on their own, one in four is estimated to suffer from malnutrition.

“Data show that malnourished older adults typically have hospital stays twice the length of well-nourished older adults, with these visits costing between $2,000 and $10,000 more. They often experience more hospital readmissions, as well,” Francis said. “Malnutrition can lead to reduced quality of life and loss of independence if left untreated, because of adverse health effects such as weight loss, diminished strength, reduced immunity, disorientation and confusion.”

Numerous nutrition assessment tools detect malnutrition in older adults, but the Mini Nutritional Assessment is considered the “gold standard” of nutritional assessment, because of its accuracy in determining nutritional risk, Francis explained. “The MNA is designed to be used with adults age 65 and older. The assessment asks questions about your general and self-perceived health and dietary practices. It also requires measuring the size of your arm and calf, using measuring tapes.”

Iowa State’s new measurement tools are used with the MNA. The Viva Gauge tools have been designed to help in measuring the size of the arm and calf, an important part of screening for nutritional risk, Francis said.

“We are conducting the free screenings to ensure that our new measurement tools are just as accurate as traditional measuring techniques,” Francis said.

The Iowa State students who helped conduct the screenings were Hillary Hayes, LeLee Yap, Amber Noterman and Kylie Thompson.