Community-Living Older Adults’ Perceptions of Body Weight, Signs of Malnutrition and Sources of Information: a Descriptive Analysis of Survey Data

Dana L. Craven, G. P. Lovell, F. E. Pelly, E. Isenring

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Community-living older adults may be susceptible to malnutrition (undernutrition) due to both physiological and non-physiological causes. The condition develops over time and the early signs and symptoms may not be obvious. Therefore awareness and early identification of nutrition risk factors may prevent, or at least slow, the progression of malnutrition. Objective: To describe community-living older adults’ understanding of the signs of malnutrition, where they would seek malnutrition information and their selfperception of body weight. Design: Older adults (aged ≥ 65 years) living in the community setting completed an online or paper based questionnaire between May and August 2016. The questionnaire contained a mix of closed and open questions which related to weight perception, weight changes, perceived signs of malnutrition and sources of malnutrition information. Body mass index (BMI) from self-reported data was classified using BMI reference ranges for older adults and compared to self-perceived weight status. Textual data regarding the signs of malnutrition were analysed and reviewed by two authors using content analysis. Descriptive statistics were used to describe participant characteristics. Results: A total of 344 responses were received, the majority (90%) completed online. Mean participant age was 73 years and 57% of participants were female. Most (92%) reported their health to be good/very good. Body weight was perceived to be just right or more than it should be by 87% of underweight women and 97% of underweight men. Although 71% of the participants indicated their body weight had remained stable in the past six months, 37% reported they had been trying to change their weight. Signs of malnutrition resulted in four key categories of (i) psychological, (ii) physical appearance, (ii) bodily function and (iv) weight change. Very few reported the need to locate malnutrition information and indicated the top three sources for information would be (i) general practitioner, (ii) dietitian or (iii) internet. Conclusion: This paper has presented useful data about malnutrition from the perspective of the community-living older adult. We found there may be uncertainty about the best weight, for older age. As many indicated they had been trying to change their weight, awareness needs to be raised regarding the impact of weight changes on health outcomes in this population. In this study, the internet appeared to be a key provider of nutrition information. Healthcare professionals need to consider how this can be used in an informative manner among community living older adults as a tool for raising awareness about nutrition risk and malnutrition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-399
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nutrition, Health and Aging
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Older adults
  • body mass index
  • community
  • malnutrition signs
  • weight perception


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