More than 30 million people in the EU are undernourished, many of them patients in hospitals and nursing homes, experts told a specialist nutrition congress in Vienna on Monday.
"It's a phenomenon which is underestimated," said Michael Hiesmayr of the Medical University of Vienna and leader of the Nutrition Day project in European Hospitals.
"EU data show that 5.0-15.0 percent of the overall population, 40 percent of hospital patients and 60 percent of people in nursings are undernourished or in danger of becoming it," Hiesmayr told the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism's congress here.
Hiesmayr is chairing the congress.
"More than 30 million people in Europe are affected," added Cornel Sieber, head of geriatric medicine and the Institute for Biomedicine of Aging at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
The related costs amounted to as much as 170 billion euros (242 billion dollars), three times as much as the costs of obesity, both experts estimated.
A recent study of 75,000 hospital patients in 30 countries showed that 60 percent of people did not eat all of the meals given to them. Of these, 43 percent said they were not hungry and only 25 percent of those who had not eaten anything by midday were given alternative nutrition intravenously.
Hiesmayr pointed out that malnourishment had a negative effect on a patient's recovery and survival prospects.
"Patients should undergo systematic nutrition screenings when admitted to hospital or nursing homes," he said.