RSU expert: A nutrient deficiency in the body can harm one’s health and be life-threatening Skip to main content
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Obesity is currently a problem worldwide and leads to negative effects on health, yet the opposite problem – which is often overlooked – is malnutrition, which is caused by insufficient food intake or poor dietary choices or illness. This can cause significant changes in body mass and tissue and have an adverse effect on health and recovery from illness. Dietologist Laila Meija, Assoc. Prof. at the Department of Sports and Nutrition at the Rīga Stradiņš University Faculty of Public Health and Social Welfare (RSU), explains what causes malnutrition and stresses that more attention should be paid to the elderly and friends and relatives who are ill.

Firstly, malnutrition occurs when there is an insufficient intake of nutrients. The reason for this could be poverty, a physical inability to go out and purchase food or prepare it, problems with swallowing, when you are unable to swallow normal food, depression, apathy, a distinct loss of apetite etc.

Secondly, malnutrition can occur when an adequate amount of calories has been taken in but they are not absorbed. There are many reasons that cause this, most often this is caused by digestive disorders following bowel operations or following a serious bowel illness. "In situations where the body is suffering from a serious illness, an inflammation and catabolism occurs in the body. There can lead to tissue breakdown and the body experiencing a reduction in muscle and organ mass. Consequently, this leads to a decrease in resistance to all manner of infections, recovery takes longer, more antibiotic use is required and the mortality rate increases," explains dietologist Laila Meija.

In order to be able to prevent these situations in a timely manner, more attention should be paid to not only the elderly and those who are ill but also those who are living on their own or in social welfare institutions.

It is very easy to detect malnutrition. It is necessary to determine whether the person has lost weight or has been eating less. A serious illness will increase the risk. The body mass index should be established by dividing the body mass (kg) of the person with their height (m), which is then squared. "We should pay more attention to those who are ill, if their body mass index is below 22 and in seniors who are older than 70, if the index is below 20, as they will then most definitely require help," stresses Assoc. Prof. Laila Meija.