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Assessment of adult malnutrition

Assessment of Adult Malnutrition was the subject of a special meeting held during the SCN's 28th session in Nairobi in April 20011.

The aim of the meeting was to reach a common understanding of recent recommendations2 on the assessment of malnutrition in adults and to identify practical steps to improve practice. Following individual presentations, and plenary discussion with an expert panel, the working groups came up with the following interim recommendations for operational agencies in six areas.

When to consider assessing adult malnutrition

Assessment of adult malnutrition should be considered under the following circumstances:

Prerequisites for surveying adults

In all situations a thorough contextual assessment and analysis is required prior to carrying out an adult anthropometric survey. Adequate expertise, clear objectives and sufficient resources are all prerequisites to undertaking such surveys.

Survey Methodology

A nutritional causal analysis must always be undertaken in conjunction with adult3 anthropometric surveys. Adult surveys require adaptation of the standard sampling used in under 5 year anthropometric surveys. The choice of methodology should take into consideration potential selection bias (adults are often away). Surveys of older adults only may be appropriate in some situations


The recommended indices that should be used are Cormic adjusted BMI (population specific or Norgan correction) & MUAC. Using MUAC alone may be a useful rapid alternative in a very acute situation. Functional outcomes (e.g. step test, hand grip) should be collected in conjunction with anthropometric data.


Currently there is no consensus on exact cut-offs of anthropometric indices for adults. Therefore it was recommended that a range of cut-offs are reported. The definition of the indicator must always be described and frequency distributions presented.

Selective feeding

Alternative strategies to selective feeding programmes should always be considered. Where selective feeding programmes are implemented, admission and discharge criteria should be based on anthropometric indices, social factors and clinical signs. Indicators for monitoring should include weight gain (minimum target 5g/kg/day) and functional ability.

Research Needs

The following research needs were prioritised:

For copies of the report of this special meeting on the assessment of adult malnutrition in emergencies email either: Fiona O'Reilly at or Brian Jones at or see

Show footnotes

1The session was made possible through the support provided to the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) Project by the office of Health and Nutrition of the Bureau for Global Programs Field Support and Research at the US Agency for International Development.

2Collins S. et al., Woodruff B., Duffield A. Assessment of Adult Malnutrition in Emergencies. ACC/SCN July 2000.

3Adults defined as over 20 years of age.

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Reference this page

Assessment of adult malnutrition. Field Exchange 13, August 2001. p10.



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