Sarcopenia and cachexia in the era of obesity: clinical and nutritional impact

Proc Nutr Soc. 2016 May;75(2):188-98. doi: 10.1017/S0029665115004279. Epub 2016 Jan 8.


Our understanding of body composition (BC) variability in contemporary populations has significantly increased with the use of imaging techniques. Abnormal BC such as sarcopenia (low muscle mass) and obesity (excess adipose tissue) are predictors of poorer prognosis in a variety of conditions or clinical situations. As a catabolic illness, a defining feature of cancer is muscle loss. Although the conceptual model of wasting in cancer is typically conceived as involuntary weight loss leading to low body weight, recent studies have shown that both sarcopenia and cachexia can be present with obesity. The combination of low muscle and high adipose tissue (sarcopenic obesity) is an emerging abnormal BC phenotype prevalent across the body weight, and hence BMI spectra. Sarcopenia and sarcopenic obesity in cancer are in most instances occult conditions, which have been independently associated with higher incidence of chemotherapy toxicity, shorter time to tumour progression, poorer outcomes of surgery, physical impairment and shorter survival. Although the mechanisms are yet to be fully understood, the associations with poorer clinical outcomes emphasise the value of nutritional assessment as well as the need to develop appropriate interventions to countermeasure abnormal BC. Sarcopenia and sarcopenic obesity create diverse nutritional requirements, highlighting the compelling need for a more comprehensive and differentiated understanding of energy and protein requirements in this heterogeneous population.

Keywords: BC body composition; Body composition; CT computerised tomography; Cancer; DLT dose limiting toxicity; HR hazard ratio; Lean body mass; Lean soft tissue; Muscle; Nutritional assessment; Nutritional status; Obesity; Sarcopenia; Sarcopenic obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cachexia*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Energy Intake
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutrition Therapy / methods
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Obesity*
  • Sarcopenia*


  • Dietary Proteins