Poor nutrition in Aboriginal patients on dialysis

Dr Alwyn Todd
Dr Alwyn Todd, nutrition researcher with Griffith Health and The Mater Hospital

The health concerns of Aboriginal people needing dialysis are being revealed by recent research which suggests 35 per cent are also suffering from malnutrition.

The study, by Griffith University and Mater Hospital researcher, Dr Alwyn Todd, has found Aboriginal people on dialysis appear to struggle with their nutritional needs more than non-aboriginal people. She has urged further research to establish a knowledge base of nutrition management of Aboriginal patients receiving dialysis.

“Malnutrition commonly occurs with people on dialysis, because people often experience loss of appetite and find dialysis tiring. The combination of these factors means that if nutritional requirements are not met dialysis can lead to the breakdown of muscle,” said Dr Todd.

”In over a third of the Aboriginal people we studied, there were signs that muscle and fat breakdown had occurred at some stage. This is likely to be linked to poor nutrition”.

“We do know many Aboriginal patients struggle financially and often become isolated from their families when they need to move to access dialysis, meaning they are likely to face difficulty in getting and storing nutritious food. We don’t know if Aboriginal people are in poorer physical condition than non-Aboriginal people when they commence dialysis.”

“Malnutrition in dialysis patients is strongly linked to survival. Considering Aboriginal people are four times more likely to need dialysis than any other segment of the population these are worrying findings. Of greater concern is the lack of research around this area,” Dr Todd said.

Dr Todd’s research used a large number of assessments to determine nutritional status, including a method called patient-generated subjective global assessment (PG-SGA). It is the first time PG-SGA had been used to specifically assess the nutrition status of Aboriginal people on dialysis in a research study.

“ It is particularly worrying that the Aboriginal people in this study were all receiving adequate dialysis treatment, yet other aspects of their health such as diet and diabetes were suffering” Dr Todd said.

This research was supported by the University of South Australia and the Central Northern Adelaide Renal and Transplantation Unit.