Background: Little research has been done on the relationship between malnutrition and mental health in community living elderly individuals. In the present study, we aimed to assess the associations between mental health (particularly anxiety and depression) and both the risk of malnutrition and body mass index (BMI, kg/m(2)) in a large sample of elderly men and women from Tromsø, Norway.
Methods: In a cross-sectional survey, with 1558 men and 1553 women aged 65 to 87 years, the risk of malnutrition was assessed by the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool ('MUST'), and mental health was measured by the Symptoms Check List 10 (SCL-10). BMI was categorised into six groups (< 20.0, 20.0-22.4, 22.5-24.9, 25.0-27.4, 27.5-29.9, ≥ 30.0 kg/m(2)).
Results: The risk of malnutrition (combining medium and high risk) was found in 5.6% of the men and 8.6% of the women. Significant mental health symptoms were reported by 3.9% of the men and 9.1% of the women. In a model adjusted for age, marital status, smoking and education, significant mental health symptoms (SCL-10 score ≥ 1.85) were positively associated with the risk of malnutrition (odds ratio 3.9 [95% CI 1.7-8.6] in men and 2.5 [95%CI 1.3-4.9] in women), the association was positive also for subthreshold mental health symptoms. For individuals with BMI < 20.0 the adjusted odds ratio for significant mental health symptoms was 2.0 [95% CI 1.0-4.0].
Conclusions: Impaired mental health was strongly associated with the risk of malnutrition in community living elderly men and women and this association was also significant for subthreshold mental health symptoms.