Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link

Undernutrition Due to Hospitalization


Michael Joseph Pistoria

, MEng, DO, Lehigh Valley Hospital - Coordinated Health

Last full review/revision Aug 2021| Content last modified Aug 2021
Click here for the Professional Version

People who are hospitalized may eat less for several reasons:

  • Illness or drugs may cause loss of appetite.

  • Food may be unfamiliar and unappetizing.

  • Some people are on a restricted diet, such as a low-fat or low-salt diet, which they may not enjoy.

  • Meals are served and removed at set times.

  • People may be served foods they do not like or cannot eat for philosophical or religious reasons (for example, because the foods are not kosher or halal).

  • For some people, eating in a hospital bed with a tray is difficult.

  • Some people need help or more time while eating. Often, by the time someone arrives to help with eating, the food has cooled and is even less appetizing.

  • If dentures are left at home, are misplaced, or do not fit right, chewing can be difficult.

  • Water may be difficult to reach from a hospital bed.

Undernutrition is a serious problem, particularly for older people and people who have chronic disorders. People who are undernourished cannot fight off infections. Sores and wounds heal more slowly, and recovery is less likely. Vitamin D deficiency is particularly common among people who are hospitalized. This deficiency increases the risk of fractures caused by falls.


Hospital staff members can make sure that restrictive diets are changed as soon as possible when no longer needed and can check how much people eat each day. At hospital admission, people or their family members can let staff members know what foods are preferred or not eaten. Hospital diets can be modified to some degree. Family members may bring in favorite foods unless those foods are restricted for medical reasons. Having family members present at meals helps because people tend to eat more when they eat with others. Family or staff members should make sure that people who wear dentures have and wear them. The hospital dietitian can provide people with liquid nutritional supplements to help prevent undernutrition.

A pitcher of fresh water should be placed within easy reach from the bed unless fluids must be limited because of a disorder. Family and staff members should encourage people to drink by regularly offering them something to drink.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
Others also read
Test your knowledge
Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India. Its practices are distinctly different from those used in Western medicine. Which of the following is NOT typically used in Ayurvedic treatment? 
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID