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Malnutrition In America: A $15.5 Billion Issue

A new Abbott and University of Illinois study uncovers how much each state spends on malnutrition associated with eight chronic diseases.

Abbott study on malnutrition impact
Sep 20 2016

Healthcare costs in the U.S. are higher than any other country,2 and a major contributor of that cost is treating chronic diseases. A complicating factor is that one in two older adults are malnourished or at risk for malnutrition when admitted to the hospital.1-4

During a hospital stay, malnutrition can increase the cost of treating a disease. In fact, a new study published in PLOS ONE looked at malnutrition associated with eight common diseases and calculated costs an additional $15.5 billion for U.S. states in direct medical spending.

"Our healthcare system already spends significant resources treating chronic diseases, and this new study shows how malnutrition—a preventable and treatable condition—is adding to that cost," said Scott Goates, PhD, health economist at Abbott and lead study author. "When people are well-nourished, we remove a barrier to successfully managing chronic conditions while lowering the financial burden on individuals and the healthcare system at large."

Malnutrition State by State

The State of Your State:

Researchers found that of the $15.5 billion spent each year on medical costs for malnutrition in eight common diseases:

California has the highest overall estimated costs at $1.7 billion, while Wyoming spends the least at $25 million.

  • Washington D.C. spends the most per person ($65) while Utah spends the least per person ($36).

  • Dementia was the highest driver of cost, accounting for more than half the total cost ($8.7 billion). Breast cancer was the lowest among the eight diseases at $76 million.

  • While people 65+ represent only 14 percent of the U.S. population, this age group accounts for nearly a third of the costs ($4.3 billion), or roughly $93 per person.


Alliance for Aging Research: Malnutrition's Impact on Older Adults (Video)

Three Ways to Spot and Stop Malnutrition

Emphasizing the importance of nutrition in the hospital and in your loved one’s home can make managing a chronic condition easier and reduce costs in the long run. Abbott registered dietitian Abby Sauer shares three tips on how to address malnutrition:

   1. Look and Listen
While the signs of malnutrition may not be visible, you can look for signs such as weight loss, lack of energy and lack of appetite and discuss them with your healthcare professional.

   2. Plan Your Visit Around a Meal
Go out for a meal or cook a nutritious meal with your loved one to help ensure they are eating enough and getting the right nutrients.

“Often older adults need more protein to combat muscle and energy loss, and getting the proper nutrients becomes especially important when you are managing a chronic disease,” said Sauer. “By spreading your protein intake throughout the day, you can make managing your chronic disease easier, while regaining your strength and energy.”

   3. Involve Others
Accompany your family member or loved one to their next doctor’s appointment so the doctor can develop a plan that helps them track for maintaining or gaining weight.

    Tappenden KA et al. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2013;37(4):482-497.
    Naber TH et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;66(5):1232-1239. 
    Somanchi M et al. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2011;35(2):209-216.
    Braunschweig C et al. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100(11):1316-1322.
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