While malnutrition can occur at any age, elderly people, aged 65 and above, who are particularly prone to it can safeguard themselves with marriage, according to a study.
The findings showed that people who are unmarried, separated or divorced are most often affected, whilst men and women who are either married or widowed tend to take better care of themselves.
The consequences of malnutrition are manifold. They range from weight loss to a weakened immune system or functional impairment of muscles and all organs. The body falls back on all its reserves.
"The older the people are, the more likely it is that they will suffer from malnutrition. The risk increases a little with every year that passes," said Dorothee Volkert, from Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (FAU) in Germany.
"Malnutrition in the elderly appears to be caused by a surprisingly narrow range of factors. Only age, marital status, difficulties with walking and coping with stairs and stays in hospital had a significant role to play," Volkert added.
In the study, appearing in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the team set out to explore which of a total of 23 variables -- ranging from aspects such as difficulties with chewing and swallowing or cognitive impairments to loneliness and depression or moving into a care home -- were decisive for malnutrition.
The researchers took six existing sets of data which included 4,844 participants, aged between 72 and 85, from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
According Volkert, a lack of appetite, which is often perceived as a key cause of malnutrition, was of no relevance.