BACKGROUND: Information on disease-related malnutrition and related outcomes in pediatric patients with chronic diseases in different settings of care is not available.
METHODS: Consecutive eligible patients attending the out-patient clinic (n = 177) or admitted to the day-hospital clinic (n = 163) or to hospital (n = 201) were screened for the presence of malnutrition (BMI and/or height/length for age z-scores < -2). We recorded data on emergency care admissions to hospital that occurred during the 3 years before screening and related total days of stay, as well as data on emergency care admissions to hospital occurring within 6 months after screening.
RESULTS: Prevalence of malnutrition was 2-fold higher (P < 0.001) in in-patients (56.7% [95% CI, 49.6-63.7]) than in patients assessed at the out-patient (33.3% [95% CI, 26.4-40.8]) and day-hospital (28.3% [95% CI, 21.5-35.8]) clinics. Estimates were heterogeneous across diagnostic groups with higher rates in patients with neurologic (61%) and cardiac (56%) diseases. Stunting was more frequent among in-patients, who also had more evident nutritional derangements. Multivariate logistic regression (covariates: age, gender, healthcare setting and disease group), showed that malnutrition (OR = 1.86 [95% CI, 1.21-2.88]; P = 0.005) was significantly associated with prolonged hospitalization (≥15 days) in the 3 years before screening. In-patients were also more likely to have been hospitalized ≥15 days (using out-patients as reference category, OR = 2.24 [95% CI, 1.39-3.63], P = 0.001), but we did not find any modifying effect (interaction) of the setting of care on the association between malnutrition and prolonged hospitalization.
DISCUSSION: The rates of malnutrition in children with chronic diseases are very high and increase hospital care needs, especially when they are admitted to hospital. Nutritional care in this patient population is recommended.