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Malnutrition in hospitalized pediatric patients. Current prevalence.

OBJECTIVE: To document the current prevalence of protein-energy malnutrition compared with that reported from the same institution in 1976.

DESIGN: All inpatients of this tertiary-care facility were assessed by anthropometric, laboratory, and clinical nutrition assessment methods in a 1-day cross-sectional survey. The comparison study from 1976 was also a 1-day cross-sectional survey.

SETTING: A tertiary-care facility in Boston, Mass.

PATIENTS: The entire inpatient population was assessed on a single weekday in September 1992.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Prevalence of acute and chronic malnutrition as judged by anthropometric and laboratory data. Data on demographics, admission classification, underlying disease, route of nutrition, and global nutritional status were also assessed.

RESULTS: The prevalence of acute protein-energy malnutrition (weight for height) based on the Waterlow criteria was as follows: severe, 1.3%; moderate, 5.8%; mild, 17.4%; and none, 75.5%. The prevalence of chronic protein-energy malnutrition (height for age) was as follows: severe, 5.1%; moderate, 7.7%; mild, 14.5%; and none, 72.8%. Although the prevalence of acute and chronic protein-energy malnutrition was significantly less in 1992 than in 1976 (P = .03 and P < .001, respectively), the numbers are still alarmingly high. Children younger than 2 years and older than 18 years and those with chronic medical conditions had a higher prevalence of protein-energy malnutrition. Twenty-four percent of patients had a serum albumin level less than 30 g/L, 34.8% had a total lymphocyte count less than 1.5 x 10(9)/L, and 24.9% had a hemoglobin concentration less than 105 g/L. One fourth of all patients were obese (> 120% weight for height), with the greatest prevalence in children aged 2 to 18 years.

CONCLUSIONS: Acute and chronic protein-energy malnutrition remains common in hospitalized pediatric patients in the United States. Important risk factors may be underlying chronic disease, periods of normally rapid growth, and recognized need for nutrition intervention.

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