How is a Nutrition Assessment relevant in the field of Respiratory Care? That’s probably what you’re thinking, right?

“I want to be a Respiratory Therapist — why do I need to know about a patient’s nutritional status?”

And that is a valid question.

But consider this. Nutrition is vital to life, just like oxygen. You can only go so long without oxygen — you can only go so long without proper food and nutrients as well.

That is exactly why we’re covering this information for you here. Because, most likely, your instructors in Respiratory Therapist School may test you on it at some point. 

Not to mention, the practice questions listed below correlate well with Egan’s Chapter 23, so you can use this study guide to help prepare for your exams. Are you ready to get started? If so, let’s dive in!

What is Nutrition Assessment?

A Nutrition Assessment is the process of analyzing and evaluating the overall nutritional status of the patient. A Registered Dietitian (RD) is typically the medical professional who is most involved in this process.

However, it’s important for Respiratory Therapists to have an understanding as well because certain cardiopulmonary conditions may have increased energy requirements. This means that, without the essential nutrients, you may not be able to provide a patient with other important therapeutic procedures.

Nutrition is important in respiratory care because oxygen is required for the cellular metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and protein. These nutrients are converted into the energy that the body needs in order to function properly. This includes all of the major organs and systems of the body.

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What is the Best Diet for Patients with a Respiratory Condition?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to provide a definitive answer to this question because each and every patient is different. Some patients may benefit from one diet, where it could do more harm than good to others.

With that said, as a Respiratory Therapist, there are a few generalizations that can be made. For example, a patient who is critically ill with a severe infection may require more protein intake than normal.

A patient with COPD may benefit from eating frequent smaller meals that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates. A patient with asthma may also benefit from smaller meals that are high in protein. They should avoid foods known to have allergens, as they may increase the likelihood of an acute attack.

Patients with Cystic Fibrosis are often malnourished. In general, they typically benefit from a diet that is high in fat and sodium.

Again, these are just a few generalized examples. Keep in mind that each and every patient is different. A proper nutritional regimen should be implemented with the help of a qualified dietitian and physician.

Nutrition Assessment Practice Questions:

1. What is the definition of a nutrition assessment?
The process of collecting and evaluating data to determine the nutrition status of an individual.

2. Nutrition assessment is the basis for developing what?
A nutrition care plan.

3. What are the components of a nutrition assessment?
Dietary history, anthropometry, biochemical indicators, nutrition-focused physical assessment, and client history.

4. What is BMI?
BMI is a comparison of weight to height used to determine underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obesity, or morbid obesity.

5. What are the classifications of undernutrition, called protein-energy malnutrition?
Kwashiorkor, marasmus, and a combination of the two (lack of circulating protein, starvation, and a mixture of the two).

6. Laboratory values of albumin, transferrin, transthyretin, and retinal-binding protein may indicate what?

7. CRP may be elevated when?
During acute illness, indicating an inflammatory response and causing low values of serum proteins.

8. The creatinine-height index reflects what?
Skeletal muscle mass.

9. Nitrogen balance compares protein intake to what?
Nitrogen excretion in the urine.

10. Observable signs in hair, eyes, lips, mouth and gums, skin, and nails may indicate what?

11. Resting energy expenditure (REE) may be determined by what?
The predictive equations or indirect calorimetry.

12. Estimation of total caloric need involves what?
It involves multiplying the REE by a factor that accounts for activity and stressors.

13. An RQ greater than 1.00 indicates what?
Overfeeding and the need to decrease total calories.

14. An RQ between the ranges of 0.67 to 1.3 should be used as what?
An indicator of test validity.

15. What is malnutrition?
It is a state of impaired metabolism in which the intake of essential nutrients is less than the body’s needs.

16. What is marasmus?
It is malnutrition associated with inadequate nutrient intake (starvation), and kwashiorkor is the hypercatabolic form.

17. Malnutrition can affect the respiratory system by?
By causing loss of respiratory muscle mass and contractility, decreased ventilatory drive, impaired immune response, and alterations in lung parenchymal structure.

18. Approximately one-third of all patients with acute respiratory failure have malnutrition, mainly the hypercatabolic form; these patients are prone to what?
Hypercapnia, and they can be difficult to wean from ventilatory support, and have higher mortality rates than patients with a normal nutrition status.

19. In chronic lung disease, the combined effect of increased energy expenditure (secondary to increased work of breathing) and inadequate caloric intake contributes to what?
A marasmus-type malnutrition.

20. The primary goal of nutrition support is to maintain or restore lean body (skeletal muscle) mass by what two ways?
(1) Meeting the overall energy needs of the patient and (2) Providing the appropriate combination of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Nutrition support also attenuates the metabolic response to stress, prevents oxidative cellular injury, and modulates the immune response.

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21. For most patients, a balance of 20% of daily calorie needs from protein, 50% to 60% from simple carbohydrate, and 20% to 30% from fat is adequate or inadequate?
This is adequate.

22. Nutrients can be supplied enterally (oral and tube feeding) or parenterally (peripheral or central venous alimentation). Which route is preferred?
The enteral route should be used whenever possible.

23. What is Calorimetry and when is it used?
It is the estimation of energy expenditure by measurement of oxygen consumption and CO2 production. It is used when you want to assess the patient’s metabolic state, to determine nutrition needs, or to assess response to nutrition therapy.

24. What is a comprehensive nutrition assessment?
The purpose of this is to gather data to develop a nutrition care plan that ensures adequate nutrition for health and well-being when implemented.

25. How to calculate and interpret BMI?
A healthy BMI is 18.5-24.9 for adults and between the 10th and 85 percentile for children. To calculate body mass index, BMI = actual body weight (kg)/ height^2 (in^2).

26. How to estimate daily resting energy expenditure?
Predicted equations, such as the Harris Benedict Equation can be used to estimate REE.

27. How to identify and minimize the common respiratory complications of enteral feedings?
To avoid pulmonary aspiration, raise the head of the bed 45 degrees, use the continuous drip method, and saxing can help too.

28. How to interpret the results of indirect calorimetry?
Results are used to assess metabolic status and to plan nutrition support. The first step is to compare REE. If it is within 10% predicted its considered normo-metabolic. The second step is to interpret the RQ.

29. How can you obtain and evaluate a patient’s nutrition history?
Review the patient’s chart.

30. How are resting energy expenditure values are adjusted to reflect the patient’s actual energy needs?
Energy needs vary according to activity level and state of health.

31. How does respiratory medication interact with food?
As a Respiratory Therapist, you should correlate treatments in between feedings.

32. What are the effects of malnutrition and on the respiratory system?
A third of patients with respiratory failure have malnutrition. This can cause a loss of diaphragmatic and accessory muscle mass and contractility, decreased hypoxic and hypercapnic response, decreased lung clearance mechanisms, decreased secretory IgA, increased bacterial colonization, and a reduced production of surfactant.

33. What is SIRS?
It stands for systemic inflammatory response syndrome. It underlies critical illnesses such as sepsis and ARDS. It can cause a 25% decrease in protein which leads to a lean body and anorexia.

34. What should the Respiratory Therapist observe clinically in the malnourished patients?
Physical findings often appear first in selected tissues such as hair eyes lips mouth and gums and skin and nails. However, in addition to malnutrition other causes of these abnormalities might be medical therapies, anemia, allergies, sunburn, medication, poor hygiene etc. Patients with severe malnutrition often appear very thin to the point where their bones are sticking out these patients are said to be cachexic.

35. Which essentials nutrients are important to monitor in patients?
Carbohydrates, protein, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and water.

36. What is the purpose of nutrition assessment?
to develop a nutrition care plan that ensures continual adequate nutrition for health.

37. What is the BMI for a healthy adult?

38. What is the BMI for a healthy child?
10th-85th percentile

39. What causes marasmus?
Prolonged, extreme lack of calories and protein associated with food shortage, early weaning, or infrequent feeding of infants.

40. What are the characteristics of marasmus?
It is typically seen in children 6 to 18 months of age that are residing in impoverished areas of the world. They tend to have “matchsitck arms” and an obvious lack of muscle and fat.

41. What causes Kwashiorkor?
Sudden lack of protein and calories, as in a first-born infant weaned suddenly on the arrival of a new sibling, when a diet of nutrient-rich breast milk is traded for a nutient-poor, cereal-based diet.

42. What are the characteristics of Kwashiorkor?
A protruding belly and edematous face and limbs.

43. What causes the protruding belly and edematous face and limbs in a Kwashiorkor baby?
Decreased plasma proteins needed to maintain fluid balance and transport fat out of the liver.

44. PEM may be reflected in low values for?
Albumin, transthyretin (prealbumin), and retinol-binding protein.

45. What is a great prognostic indicator?

46. What is the largest constituent protein in plasma?

47. Why is Albumin’s usefulness for monitoring the effectiveness of nutrition in the critical care setting limited?
Because its half-life is only 14 to 21 days.

48. What is the most commonly used biomarker of inflammation?
C-reactive protein (CRP).

49. What happens to C-reactive protein with infection and inflammation?
It increases.

50. What happens to albumin and prealbumin with infection and inflammation?
It decreases.

51. What reflects skeletal muscle mass?
The amount of creatinine excreted in the urine.

52. The amount of nitrogen excretion in the urine is typically measured as what?
The 24-hour urinary urea nitrogen.

53. What is common in malnutrition, especially the kwashiorkor type?
Impaired immunity.

54. What is the classic measure of energy called?
Basal metabolic rate (BMR).

55. When is basal metabolic rate obtained?
After 10 hours of fasting.

56. How is basal metabolic rate measured?
The number of calories expended at rest per square meter of body surface per hour.

57. The estimation of energy expenditure by measurement of oxygen consumption and CO2 production is called what?
Indirect calorimetry.

58. What is the biggest problem with indirect calorimetry?
The machine has to be calibrated, and there are leaks.

59. Nutritional disorders cannot be made from a single laboratory value because why?
Because, by themselves, they are not sufficiently sensitive or specific to diagnose malnutrition. Instead, laboratory test results are used with other data as part of a holistic assessment of a patient’s nutritional status.

60. Increased metabolism associated with inflammation causes a 25% decrease in protein synthesis resulting in what?
A loss of lean body mass.

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61. In proinflammatory states the combination of inflammation and hypoalbuminemia is linked with what?
Increased morbidity, mortality, and longer hospitalization.

62. Although predictive equations are highly useful tools in calculating a patient’s energy expenditure needs, they do not always replace the need for performing what?
Indirect calorimetry, which is generally more accurate and provides additional information, including calculation of the RQ.

63. Fifty percent of hospitalized patients present with what?
Secondary PEM.

64. You should begin enteral nutrition within how long after intubation?
24 to 48 hours.

65. How does malnutrition affect the respiratory system?
It causes a loss of respiratory muscle mass and diminishes the ability of the diaphragm to contract. It decreases the ventilatory drive and causes and impaired immune response as well.

Final Thoughts

Thank you so much for reading all the way to the end of our study guide on Nutrition Assessment. I hope this information was helpful for you and I hope you can use it to ace your exams whenever that time comes.

We have a similar guide that covers the topic of Respiratory Failure that I think you will enjoy. Thanks again for reading and as always, breathe easy my friend. 


The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article:

  • Faarc, Kacmarek Robert PhD Rrt, et al. Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care. 12th ed., Mosby, 2020. [Link]
  • Faarc, Heuer Al PhD Mba Rrt Rpft. Wilkins’ Clinical Assessment in Respiratory Care. 8th ed., Mosby, 2017. [Link]
  • Jardins, Des Terry. Cardiopulmonary Anatomy & Physiology: Essentials of Respiratory Care. 7th ed., Cengage Learning, 2019. [Link]
  • Rrt, Des Terry Jardins MEd, and Burton George Md Facp Fccp Faarc. Clinical Manifestations and Assessment of Respiratory Disease. 8th ed., Mosby, 2019. [Link]

Disclosure: The links to the textbooks are affiliate links which means, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.