One step in evaluating
nutrition status is to obtain information about a person’s history with respect
to health status, socioeconomic status, drug use, and diet. The health history
reflects a person’s medical record and may reveal a disease that interferes
with the person’s ability to eat or the body’s use of nutrients. The person’s
family history of major diseases is also noteworthy, especially for conditions
such as heart disease that have a genetic tendency to run in families. Economic
circumstances may show a financial inability to buy foods or inadequate kitchen
facilities in which to prepare them. Social factors such as marital status,
ethnic background, and educational level also influence food choices and
nutrition status. A drug history, including all prescribed and over-the-counter
medications, may highlight possible interactions that lead to nutrient
A second technique that may help to reveal
nutrition problems is taking anthropometric measures such as height and weight.
The assessor compares a person’s measurements with standards specific for
gender and age or with previous measures on the same individual.
A third nutrition assessment technique is a
physical examination looking for clues to poor nutrition status. Visual
inspection of the hair, eyes, skin, posture, tongue, and fingernails can
provide such clues. In addition, information gathered from an interview can
help identify symptoms. The examination requires skill because many physical
signs and symptoms reflect more than one nutrient deficiency or toxicity—or
even nonnutrition conditions. Like the other assessment techniques, a physical
examination alone does not yield firm conclusions. Instead, physical
examinations reveal possible imbalances that must be confirmed by other assessment
techniques, or they confirm results from other assessment measures.
A fourth way to detect a developing
deficiency, imbalance, or toxicity is to take samples of blood or urine,
analyze them in the laboratory, and compare the results with normal values for
a similar population. Laboratory tests are most useful in uncovering early
signs of malnutrition before symptoms appear. In addition, they can confirm
suspicions raised by other assessment methods.