The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/The American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition Consensus Malnutrition Characteristics

Malnutrition in adult hospitalized patients has been a significant issue for almost 40 years. Changes in 2007 to the diagnosis related groups reimbursement methodology, as outlined by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, provided an impetus to improve the diagnosis and documentation of malnutrition in adult patients. Being able to accurately assess, diagnose, and document malnutrition has been challenged by the lack of a standard malnutrition definition. In 2012 a workgroup of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition published a consensus paper outlining characteristics for the diagnosis of adult hospital malnutrition. Using the etiology approach for defining malnutrition as outlined by Jensen and colleagues, 6 general characteristics are outlined with specific thresholds to delineate severe and nonsevere malnutrition. The purpose of this article is to provide practical strategies for criteria implementation and to describe one institution's experience in implementing a broad‐based “malnutrition program” within its healthcare system.

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Diagnostic criteria for malnutrition – An ESPEN Consensus Statement


To provide a consensus-based minimum set of criteria for the diagnosis of malnutrition to be applied independent of clinical setting and aetiology, and to unify international terminology.


The European Society of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) appointed a group of clinical scientists to perform a modified Delphi process, encompassing e-mail communications, face-to-face meetings, in group questionnaires and ballots, as well as a ballot for the ESPEN membership.


First, ESPEN recommends that subjects at risk of malnutrition are identified by validated screening tools, and should be assessed and treated accordingly. Risk of malnutrition should have its own ICD Code. Second, a unanimous consensus was reached to advocate two options for the diagnosis of malnutrition. Option one requires body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) <18.5 to define malnutrition. Option two requires the combined finding of unintentional weight loss (mandatory) and at least one of either reduced BMI or a low fat free mass index (FFMI). Weight loss could be either >10% of habitual weight indefinite of time, or >5% over 3 months. Reduced BMI is <20 or <22 kg/m2 in subjects younger and older than 70 years, respectively. Low FFMI is <15 and <17 kg/m2 in females and males, respectively. About 12% of ESPEN members participated in a ballot; >75% agreed; i.e. indicated ≥7 on a 10-graded scale of acceptance, to this definition.


In individuals identified by screening as at risk of malnutrition, the diagnosis of malnutrition should be based on either a low BMI (<18.5 kg/m2), or on the combined finding of weight loss together with either reduced BMI (age-specific) or a low FFMI using sex-specific cut-offs.

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To create a consensus on malnutrition diagnostic criteria: A report from the Global Leadership Initiative on Malnutrition (GLIM) meeting at the ESPEN Congress 2016

During the ESPEN Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark (September 2016) representatives of the 4 largest global PEN-societies from Europe (ESPEN), USA (ASPEN), Asia (PENSA) and Latin America (FELANPE), and from national PEN-societies around the world met to continue the conversation on how to diagnose malnutrition that started during the Clinical Nutrition Week, Austin, USA (February 2016).

Current thinking on diagnostic approaches was shared; ESPEN suggested a grading approach that could encompass various types of signs, symptoms and etiologies to support diagnosis. ASPEN emphasized where the parties agree; i.e. that the three major published approaches (ESPEN, ASPEN/AND and Subjective Global Assessment (SGA)) all propose weight loss as a key indicator for malnutrition. FELANPE suggested that the anticipated consensus approach needs to prioritize a diagnostic methodology that is available for everybody since resources differ globally. PENSA highlighted that BMI varies by ethnicity/race, and that sarcopenia/muscle mass evaluation is important for the diagnosis of malnutrition.

A Core Working Committee of the Global Leadership Initiative on Malnutrition (GLIM) has been established (comprised of two representatives each from the 4 largest PEN-societies) that will lead consensus development in collaboration with a larger Working Group with broad global representation, using e-mail, telephone conferences, and face-to-face meetings during the up-coming ASPEN and ESPEN Congresses. Transparency and external input will be sought. Objectives include: 1. Consensus development around evidence-based criteria for broad application. 2. Promotion of global dissemination of the consensus criteria. 3. Seeking adoption by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

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Global Leadership Initiative on Malnutrition: Progress Report From ASPEN Clinical Nutrition Week 2017

This is a restricted access article, but those belonging to ASPEN can access via log-in.