A retrospective analysis of malnutrition risk, nutritional support and outcomes in COVID-19 patients

Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2022 Aug:50:196-206. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2022.05.017. Epub 2022 May 27.


Background: The association between obesity and disease severity in COVID-19 has been reported, whilst the impact of undernutrition remains less well-defined. Here we describe nutritional risk profiles of consecutive COVID-19 hospital inpatients, together with clinical outcomes and the impact of nutritional therapy.

Methods: This was a retrospective case-control study of adult inpatients admitted to University College London Hospital between February and July 2020 with PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2. Data were extracted from electronic health records and compared to a control group of consecutive patients admitted between March and April 2019. COVID-19 patients were classified as at low, moderate or high nutritional risk according to a local nutritional screening tool on admission. Data relating to demographics, nutritional therapy and clinical outcomes were collected and compared between nutritional risk groups.

Results: A significantly higher proportion of the COVID-19 group were found to be at high nutritional risk (132/381, 34.6% vs. 105/468, 22.4%; p < 0.0001). Within the COVID-19 group, multivariate analysis showed that those at moderate and high nutritional risk had increased odds of having an above-average peak CRP (p = 0.004) and a below-average nadir albumin (p = 0.0002). Inpatient length of stay was on average 5.8 days longer for COVID-19 patients at moderate and high nutritional risk compared to those at low nutritional risk (p = 0.0008). COVID-19 patients at moderate nutritional risk on admission had a higher proportion of ICU admissions (28/89, 31.5% vs. 32/160, 20.0%; p = 0.01). Mortality was significantly worse in COVID-19 patients at high nutritional risk compared to those at low nutritional risk (52/132, 39.4% vs. 24/160, 15.0%; p < 0.0001). Prescription of enteral nutrition in ward-based COVID-19 patients at high nutritional risk was associated with lower inpatient mortality (20/67, 29.9% vs. 22/38, 57.9%; p = 0.009). In crude analysis, the 30-day mortality rate post-discharge was higher in those at moderate and high nutritional risk compared to those at low nutritional risk (13/151, 8.6% vs. 4/136, 2.9%, p < 0.05). Amongst patients at high nutritional risk, nutritional therapy was less common amongst non-white patients compared to white patients (12/29, 41.4% vs. 46/66, 70.0%; p = 0.006).

Conclusion: Patients admitted with COVID-19 were at significant risk of undernutrition, which was associated with adverse clinical outcomes in our study. This risk was reduced by simple nutritional interventions. Mortality amongst patients at high nutritional risk persisted beyond discharge, suggesting close nutritional follow up in the period following hospital admission is warranted.

Keywords: COVID-19; Malnutrition; Nutritional assessment; Nutritional supplementation; Outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aftercare
  • COVID-19* / therapy
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition* / diagnosis
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Status
  • Nutritional Support
  • Patient Discharge
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2