Dietitian Blog, MNT Guidelines | Jul 2 2018

Getting acquainted with pediatric malnutrition

Caring for patients who are malnourished has become an expectation for healthcare organizations. Proper care first depends on proper identification. At Dietitians On Demand, we have shone a bright light on malnutrition in adults, but malnutrition can affect pediatric patients as well.

The criteria to identify malnutrition in children are much different than those for adults. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to pediatric malnutrition.

What’s in a name?

For pediatric patients, the term ‘malnutrition’ can actually refer to a state of over- or undernutrition. That is, children who are obese may also be considered malnourished. Thus, you may see the term ‘undernutrition’ used, rather than ‘malnutrition’ in pediatric populations.

For the purposes of this article, ‘malnutrition’ will be used to refer to a state of undernutrition.

There’s a clear difference between acute and chronic malnutrition

According to the 2015 Consensus Statement between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ASPEN regarding pediatric malnutrition, acute and chronic malnutrition generally manifest quite differently. Acute malnutrition can be observed with weight loss or inadequate weight gain, whereas chronic malnutrition often results in height stunting.

Six specific indicators for pediatric malnutrition exist:

  • Food/Nutrient intake — the most basic and intuitive predictor of malnutrition.
  • Assessment of energy and protein needs — essential for determining adequacy of nutritional intake.
  • Growth parameters — includes length- or height-for-age, weight-for-age, BMI-for-age, and head circumference-for-age. Measurements are compared with WHO or CDC standardized growth charts.
  • Weight gain velocity — an early identifier of malnutrition and indicates slower than average weight gain compared with other children of the same age.
  • Mid-upper arm circumference — useful for patients whose weight is affected by edema and can be used as an independent predictor of malnutrition in children aged 6-59 months.
  • Handgrip strength — indicates a decline in muscle function, which often occurs before muscle wasting.

Get familiar with the z

Z scores indicate how many standard deviations a measurement is from the mean. In other words, if comparing a malnourished child’s weight-for-age to the CDC comparative data, a z score will tell you how atypical this child’s weight-for-age is compared to the average weight for children of his/her same age. Many of the delineations used to qualify malnutrition as mild, moderate, or severe rely on z scores.

Just as in adult populations, we are still learning more about pediatric malnutrition. You can begin by reading the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ and ASPEN’s Consensus Statement on pediatric malnutrition by clicking here. In this article, you will also find the exact criteria and data points that can be used to diagnosis mild, moderate, and severe malnutrition in pediatric populations. Educate yourself, and let’s not let pediatric malnutrition go unnoticed.

Dietitians On Demand is a nationwide staffing and recruiting company for registered dietitians, specializing in short-term, temporary and permanent-hire positions in acute care, long term care and food service positions. We’re dedicated to dietitians and helping them enhance their practice and excel in the workplace. Check out our job openings, request your coverage, or visit our store today!

Sara Glanz, registered dietitian

About Sara Glanz

Sara Glanz, MS, RD, LD, CNSC worked as a traveling dietitian for Dietitians On Demand for two years before joining the corporate team. In her current role as Director of Clinical Education, she has championed the continuing education program to empower dietitians everywhere to achieve their professional goals.

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