Touch-screen technology to address malnutrition in older people

A touch-screen computer to help detect illness from malnutrition in older adults has been created by researchers from the University of Sheffield.

The Novel Assessment of Nutrition and Ageing (NANA) system, which was showcased at an event at the Houses of Parliament in London last night (Wednesday 7 November 2012), will measure what older adults are eating at home, to support research into malnutrition.

Using the NANA sytemMalnutrition is a major public health problem that is easily overlooked in our affluent and overweight society. Whilst malnutrition affects all ages, older adults are particularly affected, with 1 in 3 who live independently considered to be at risk.1

However, spotting people at risk of malnutrition is difficult as there was previously no easy way of tracking what people ate and drank in their own homes.

NANA is the result of a three-year project to develop a simple and easy to use system for measuring diet, cognition, mood, and physical function. The system makes it simple for anyone to enter items of food and drink taken throughout the day, both as complete meals and snacks. NANA keeps track of what you actually consume by comparing before and after you eat and drink.

It has been created by a collaborative team of academics from the Universities of Sheffield, St Andrews, Bath and Reading, together with input from 400 older adults across the UK.

Dr Liz Williams, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition at the University of Sheffield said: "We are particularly grateful to the many volunteers in Sheffield who worked closely with the Human Nutrition Unit on the development of the system.

"Sheffield people were instrumental in both the design and testing of the NANA system".

As well as information about diet, NANA has measures of cognitive function, mood and physical activity, all of which play a role in nutrition.

Dr Liz WilliamsProject lead, Dr Arlene Astell, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews said: “Being able to eat and drink properly is vital for keeping well and living a good life. We have worked with older adults to make NANA something that people would want to have in their homes and use every day.”

Tony Hill, a representative of the NDA (New Dynamics of Ageing) Older People’s reference group and member of the NANA Advisory Panel, said: “NANA is a very simple to use device that will dramatically reduce the number of people dying from malnutrition. I have really enjoyed being involved in the project and look forward to seeing people across the UK using NANA.”

Malnutrition is not confined to older people at home. Reports suggest that more than 50 per cent of hospital patients do not eat the full meal provided and up to 30 per cent of residents in nursing homes may not finish their lunch.2

Steve Wood, Managing Director of Sanctuary Care, and a partner in the NANA project, said: “For organisations such as Sanctuary Care who look after older people in their own homes, in extra care accommodation and in care homes, ensuring they eat well is a priority.

“NANA will be a vital tool for our staff to ensure the people we look after are able to enjoy the wide range of home-cooked nutritionally balanced meals we offer.”

The NANA touchscreen system was showcased at a reception hosted by Sir Menzies Campbell who has previously recognised malnutrition as a healthcare priority in our ageing population coupled with the need to take preventative action to reduce demands on overstretched health and social care services.

Other speakers at the event included Professor Louise Richardson, Principal of the University of St Andrews, and Dr Arlene Astell, NANA project lead.

Additional information:

1 BAPEN 2011 survey.
2 “50 per cent of hospital patients do not finish their meal” :Hiesmayr M, Schindler K, Pernicka E, et al. Decreased food intake is a risk factor for mortality in hospitalised patients: the NutritionDay survey 2006. Clin Nutr 2009;28:484-91.
“Up to 30 per cent of residents in nursing homes may not finish their lunch and fail to meet their nutritional requirement”: Valentini L, Schindler K, Schlaffer R, et al. The first NutritionDay in nursing homes: participation may improve malnutrition awareness. Clin Nutr 2009;28:109-16.

The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.

The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.


For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859