A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) compares the clinical outcomes of malnourished hospitalized patients given nutritional support, including supplements, with those not receiving it. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that patients given nutritional support had a significantly lower mortality rate. Quite aside from the fact that this should by now just be basic common sense, upon reading the study one is simply left wondering how many more patients will have to die before paying proper attention to nutrition finally becomes standard practice in our hospitals?
Conducted in Switzerland between April 2013 and December 2018, the study examined data on a total of 69,934 hospitalized patients with malnutrition. The average age of the patients was 73. Most of them had multiple health problems, including high blood pressure, cancer, or chronic kidney failure. In the case of 7,662 patients (10.9 percent of the total), their malnutrition was classified as ‘severe’.
In addition to having a lower in-hospital mortality rate, patients given nutritional support were less likely to be readmitted to hospital within 30 days. They were also less frequently sent to a post-acute care facility upon being discharged. Among patients staying in hospital for less than 5 days, nutritional support was associated with a greater decrease in mortality risk compared to those staying for more than 5 days.
Despite Switzerland being a wealthy country with good social programs, the researchers note that its percentage of hospitalized patients with malnourishment increased from 18 percent in 2010 to almost 28 percent in 2015. This clearly raises important questions about levels of malnourishment not just in other industrialized countries, but also among people living in developing and least-developed countries as well. The United Nations recently warned that nearly 2 billion people in Asia cannot afford a healthy diet and that the COVID-19 pandemic is making malnutrition worse.
The benefits of correcting malnutrition are not solely limited to improving patients’ health and saving lives, however. They are also economic. Pointing out that patients who are older and frail frequently experience a reduction in appetite, the JAMA researchers describe in their study how malnourishment is associated with functional decline, prolonged hospital stays, and higher healthcare costs.
In this respect it is already beyond dispute that conventional approaches to healthcare are becoming unaffordable. A report published in 2019 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group whose members comprise 37 mostly wealthy countries, estimated that for most of its members health expenditure will outpace their economic growth over the next 15 years. This is clearly unsustainable. A previous OECD report from 2015 found that healthcare costs are rising so fast in advanced economies that without reform they will be unaffordable by the middle of the century.
Ultimately, this JAMA study provides further supporting evidence for the vital role of nutrition in reducing mortality. It also shows that focusing on the link between nutrition and health, as demonstrated by the scientific discoveries of Dr. Matthias Rath and the work of the Dr. Rath Research Institute, is the future of medicine. Failing to pay attention to nutrition in malnourished hospital patients is at best medically neglectful, and at worst arguably even criminal. In the healthcare systems of the future, not providing nutritional support for malnourished patients will be seen as akin to not giving fluids to those who are dehydrated. Better that hospitals realize this now, and avoid further unnecessary deaths, rather than continue to ignore what is simply common sense to the rest of us.