Malnutrition worsens coronavirus outcomes, study suggests

Empty ceramic plate, fork and knife on linen napkin,  rural wooden background. Top view with copy space
A history of malnutrition has been linked to more serious coronavirus complications. (Stock, Getty Images)

A healthy diet could be lifesaving amid the coronavirus pandemic, research suggests.

Malnutrition is known to dampen our immune system, increasing the risk of complications with any infection.

To better understand how diet relates to the coronavirus, scientists from the Children's Hospital of Orange County in California analysed the medical records of more than 94,000 adults and 8,000 youngsters who were hospitalised with the infection between March and June 2020.

Of the 520 children with particularly severe coronavirus complications, 7.5% had previously been diagnosed with malnutrition, compared to just 1.5% of the youngsters with a milder infection.

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Among the adults, 4% of those who were critically ill with the coronavirus had been diagnosed with malnutrition, versus 1.8% of those with a milder course of the infection.

Coronavirus COVID-19 computer generated image.
Although usually mild, the coronavirus can trigger a disease called COVID-19. (Stock, Getty Images)

A nutritious diet is known to aid recovery from any illness, the Orange County scientists wrote in the journal Scientific Reports.

The coronavirus pandemic is thought to be limiting some people's access to healthy food due to restrictive lockdowns and the economic impact of the outbreak.

Read more: Vegan diet cuts severe COVID risk by 73%

Coronavirus aside, malnutrition is known to increase a patient's death risk, lengthen their hospital stay and raise the risk of readmission.

To learn more, the scientists analysed coronavirus patients from 56 hospitals across the US. The team then looked at any malnutrition diagnoses made between 2015 and 2019.

Malnutrition was linked to more severe coronavirus complications, particularly among the children under five and adults aged 79 or over.

This may partially be the result of limited medical data available for young children, according to the scientists.

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Nevertheless, the team hopes public health interventions will be introduced for people who are most at risk of malnutrition.

"It is imperative to target communities at highest risk of both malnutrition and COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus], as COVID-19 has been shown to increase the incidence of malnutrition and malnutrition is associated with more severe disease in patients of certain age groups," wrote the scientists.

"These communities may very well be overlapping as malnutrition and COVID-19 have been seen to disproportionately affect communities that are most vulnerable to health disparities."

What is a healthy diet?

A healthy, balanced diet is made up of at least five portions of different fruit and vegetables every day.

Potatoes or wholemeal bread, rice and pasta are high-fibre carbohydrate sources.

Healthy protein sources include poultry, moderate amounts of red meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils.

Choose unsaturated oils – like olive, rapeseed or walnut – and stay hydrated by drinking at least six to eight glasses of water a day.

Limit foods that are high in salt, sugar or saturated fat, which are solid at room temperature.

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