British Journal of Nutrition

Review Article

Nutrition, ageing and ill health

S. E. Gariballaa1 c1 and A. J. Sinclaira1

a1 Academic Department of Geriatric Medicine, The University of Birmingham, The Hayward Building, Selly Oak Hospital, Raddlebarn Road, Birmingham B29 6JD, UK


There are physical, mental, social and environmental changes which take place with ageing; for example, decreased physical activity, increase in body fat, decrease in lean body mass and consequently decreased energy intake may be associated with physiological functions that affect metabolism, nutrient intake, physical activity and risk of disease. There are now many studies which have found that undernutrition is prevalent and often unrecognized in patients admitted to hospitals and institutions. There is also evidence which links protein-energy undernutrition or its markers with clinical outcomes in acute and non-acute hospital settings and that nutritional supplements can improve outcomes in some of these settings. However, most clinically-available nutrition screening instruments lack sensitivity and specificity, and abnormal nutritional indicators may simply reflect effects of age, functional disability, or severe underlying disease. Thus, causal relationship cannot be assumed without a sufficiently powerful intervention study which adequately adjusts for the effects of non-nutritional factors, such as the number and severity of co-morbid conditions on clinical outcome.

(Received March 27 1997)

(Revised January 15 1998)

(Accepted January 28 1998)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr S. E. Gariballa, fax +44 (0)121 627 8304, email