Clinician Article

Supportive interventions for enhancing dietary intake in malnourished or nutritionally at-risk adults.

  • Baldwin C
  • Kimber KL
  • Gibbs M
  • Weekes CE
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Dec 20;12:CD009840. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009840.pub2. (Review)
PMID: 27996085
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  • Hospital Doctor/Hospitalists
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 6/7
  • Internal Medicine
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 6/7
  • Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • Geriatrics
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • Public Health
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7


BACKGROUND: Supportive interventions such as serving meals in a dining room environment or the use of assistants to feed patients are frequently recommended for the management of nutritionally vulnerable groups. Such interventions are included in many policy and guideline documents and have implications for staff time but may incur additional costs, yet there appears to be a lack of evidence for their efficacy.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of supportive interventions for enhancing dietary intake in malnourished or nutritionally at-risk adults.

SEARCH METHODS: We identified publications from comprehensive searches of the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, Embase, AMED, British Nursing Index, CINAHL, SCOPUS, ISI Web of Science databases, scrutiny of the reference lists of included trials and related systematic reviews and handsearching the abstracts of relevant meetings. The date of the last search for all databases was 31 March 2013. Additional searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, ClinicalTrials.gov and WHO ICTRP were undertaken to September 2016. The date of the last search for these databases was 14 September 2016.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials of supportive interventions given with the aim of enhancing dietary intake in nutritionally vulnerable adults compared with usual care.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three review authors and for the final search, the editor, selected trials from titles and abstracts and independently assessed eligibility of selected trials. Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias, as well as evaluating overall quality of the evidence utilising the GRADE instrument, and then agreed as they entered data into the review. The likelihood of clinical heterogeneity amongst trials was judged to be high as trials were in populations with widely different clinical backgrounds, conducted in different healthcare settings and despite some grouping of similar interventions, involved interventions that varied considerably. We were only able, therefore, to conduct meta-analyses for the outcome measures, 'all-cause mortality', 'hospitalisation' and 'nutritional status (weight change)'.

MAIN RESULTS: Forty-one trials (10,681 participants) met the inclusion criteria. Trials were grouped according to similar interventions (changes to organisation of nutritional care (N = 13; 3456 participants), changes to the feeding environment (N = 5; 351 participants), modification of meal profile or pattern (N = 12; 649 participants), additional supplementation of meals (N = 10; 6022 participants) and home meal delivery systems (N = 1; 203 participants). Follow-up ranged from 'duration of hospital stay' to 12 months.The overall quality of evidence was moderate to very low, with the majority of trials judged to be at an unclear risk of bias in several risk of bias domains. The risk ratio (RR) for all-cause mortality was 0.78 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66 to 0.92); P = 0.004; 12 trials; 6683 participants; moderate-quality evidence. This translates into 26 (95% CI 9 to 41) fewer cases of death per 1000 participants in favour of supportive interventions. The RR for number of participants with any medical complication ranged from 1.42 in favour of control compared with 0.59 in favour of supportive interventions (very low-quality evidence). Only five trials (4451 participants) investigated health-related quality of life showing no substantial differences between intervention and comparator groups. Information on patient satisfaction was unreliable. The effects of supportive interventions versus comparators on hospitalisation showed a mean difference (MD) of -0.5 days (95% CI -2.6 to 1.6); P = 0.65; 5 trials; 667 participants; very low-quality evidence. Only three of 41 included trials (4108 participants; very low-quality evidence) reported on adverse events, describing intolerance to the supplement (diarrhoea, vomiting; 5/34 participants) and discontinuation of oral nutritional supplements because of refusal or dislike of taste (567/2017 participants). Meta-analysis across 17 trials with adequate data on weight change revealed an overall improvement in weight in favour of supportive interventions versus control: MD 0.6 kg (95% CI 0.21 to 1.02); 2024 participants; moderate-quality evidence. A total of 27 trials investigated nutritional intake with a majority of trials not finding marked differences in energy intake between intervention and comparator groups. Only three trials (1152 participants) reported some data on economic costs but did not use accepted health economic methods (very low-quality evidence).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is evidence of moderate to very low quality to suggest that supportive interventions to improve nutritional care results in minimal weight gain. Most of the evidence for the lower risk of all-cause mortality for supportive interventions comes from hospital-based trials and more research is needed to confirm this effect. There is very low-quality evidence regarding adverse effects; therefore whilst some of these interventions are advocated at a national level clinicians should recognise the lack of clear evidence to support their role. This review highlights the importance of assessing patient-important outcomes in future research.

Clinical Comments

Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)

This seems to be a Cochrane trend: very low-quality trials with maybe a very small effect of interventions. These kind of trials and meta-analyses don`t help clinicians.

Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)

The problem is the interventions require system changes, so the role of the clinician in this is more advocacy.

General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)

Difficult to get to excited about a review in an area with no strong data to support it. The article is important in that it might focus attention on an area in need of more research, but it is unlikely to make an impact on clinical practice.


This is a good quality, robust and thorough Cochrane review. There was enough information from trials of reasonable quality to draw several clinically useful conclusions, including the need to emphasize more patient-important outcomes in future trials.

Hospital Doctor/Hospitalists

Malnutrition is a common condition associated with high morbidity. This review does a good job highlighting the weaknesses in the current evidence.

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