Treatment for malnutrition (undernutrition) depends on the underlying cause and how malnourished the person is.
They may be given advice to follow at home, or they may be supported at home by a dietitian or other qualified healthcare professional. In severe cases, treatment in hospital may be needed.
Dietary changes and supplements
A dietitian will advise about dietary changes that can help.
They may create a tailored diet plan that ensures the person gets enough nutrients.
They may also suggest:
- having a healthier, more balanced diet
- eating "fortified" foods that contain extra nutrients
- snacking between meals
- having drinks that contain lots of calories
- getting home supermarket deliveries
If these measures aren’t enough, taking extra nutrients in the form of supplements may be advised. These should only be taken on the advice of a healthcare professional
For more information and advice, see:
For people who are unable to eat enough to meet their body's needs – for example because they have swallowing problems – an alternative way of getting nutrients may be needed.
This can include:
- a tube that's passed down the nose and into the stomach – called a nasogastric tube
- a tube that's placed directly into the stomach or gut through the skin of the tummy
- a solution containing nutrients being fed directly into the blood through a tube in a vein – known as parenteral nutrition
These treatments are usually first started in hospital, but they can be continued at home if the person is well enough.
Read about how swallowing problems are treated for more information about these feeding methods.
Care and support services
Some people who are malnourished also need extra care to help them cope with underlying issues such as limited mobility.
This may include:
- home care visitors who can help shop for food or cook for people who find this difficult – read more about getting care at home
- occupational therapy – an occupational therapist can identify problems with daily activities and help find solutions to these
- a "meals on wheels" or meals at home service – this can often be provided by the local authority, although there's usually a charge
- speech and language therapy – a speech therapist can teach exercises to help with swallowing difficulties and offer advice about dietary changes (such as foods that are easy swallow)
Read more about care and support for feeding and nutrition problems.
Treating malnutrition in children
Malnutrition in children is often caused by long-term health conditions, for which hospital treatment is often needed. But this isn't the case for all children with malnutrition.
Treatment may involve:
- dietary changes, such as eating foods high in energy and nutrients
- support for families to manage underlying factors affecting the child's nutritional intake
- treatment for any underlying medical conditions causing their malnutrition
- vitamin and mineral supplements
- high energy and protein nutritional supplements – if the other treatments aren't enough on their own
Severely malnourished children need to be fed and rehydrated with great care so can't be given a normal diet straight away. They will usually need special care in hospital.
Once they're well enough, they can gradually return to a normal diet and continue this at home.
It's important that treatment is monitored regularly to make sure it's working. Regular weight and height measurements will be taken, with referral to specialist services if there's no improvement.