Are we wasting our money on food supplements in elder care wards?

J Adv Nurs. 2003 Aug;43(3):275-80. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2003.02710.x.


Background: It is reported that undernutrition in older hospitalized patients is commonly found, but estimates of its prevalence vary. It is also not clear which treatment approaches are best because poor methodology prevents comparison of outcomes between different studies.

Rationale: The rationale of this observational study was to look at typical elder care wards in order to determine what food supplements were being prescribed. We wished to determine whether serum albumin and/or body mass index (BMI) were appropriately related to the prescription of sip feeds and also to determine the palatability of supplements provided.

Method: We monitored the wastage of sip feeds over a 24-hour period and extrapolated an estimated cost. Ninety-six patients were studied, including 23 patients with a BMI of less than 20, of whom 30% were on supplementary feeds.

Results: Seventy percentage of prescribed sip feeds were being given to people with a BMI of 20 or more. The mean wastage in this 24-hour period was 63% ( pound 79.56) in four wards containing 96 older patients.

Conclusion: We concluded that there was no relationship between the numbers of patients with a low albumin and BMI and the prescription of sip feeds. We found compliance to be low (37%) because of poor palatability, with a large number of patients who appeared to require sip feeds not being prescribed them and those who received them wasting more than they drank.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Costs and Cost Analysis / methods
  • Dietary Supplements / economics*
  • Dietary Supplements / standards
  • Female
  • Food Preferences
  • Food, Formulated / economics
  • Hospitalization / economics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Status
  • Serum Albumin / analysis


  • Serum Albumin