The use of oral nutritional supplements in an Irish community setting


S. Kennelly, Community Nutrition & Dietetic Department, HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster, Marlinstown Office Park, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, Ireland.
Tel: 00353(0)449353220
Fax: 00353(0)449353225


Background:  The frequency of oral nutritional supplement (ONS) prescribing has been increasing steadily in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). Available evidence indicates that health professionals in the community setting in the ROI have a poor level of knowledge about ONS. The objectives of the present study were to investigate ONS prescribing practices and to identify the types of patient who were prescribed these products.

Methods:  Ten of 17 eligible general practitioners were recruited and asked to refer all patients (aged > 16 years) who were prescribed ONS during a 3-month period. Patients were interviewed by a community dietitian, using a questionnaire incorporating the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST). ONS prescriptions were judged either to fulfil or not to fulfil a set of criteria developed for ONS prescribing in the community.

Results:  The majority of patients were female (62/78). Their mean (SD) age was 79 (10.5) years. According to MUST criteria, 31 of 78 patients were at ‘low risk’, 18 of 78 were at ‘medium risk’ and 29 of 78 were at ‘high risk’ of malnutrition. Less than half of the patients (36/78) had a body mass index of < 20 kg m−2. Only 21 of 78 patients reported having received dietary advice in addition to their ONS prescription. Almost one-third (31%) of ONS prescriptions did not fulfil the criteria. Social factors, such as living alone, and difficulties with cooking and shopping, influenced the need for ONS in almost 70% of cases.

Conclusions:  ONS were prescribed in accordance with the prescribing criteria in the majority of cases; however, some patients who were prescribed ONS were not ‘at risk’ of malnutrition. Social circumstances played an important part in determining the need for ONS prescriptions.