Objective: Malnutrition among hospital patients, a frequent, yet under-diagnosed problem is associated with adverse impact on patient outcome and health care costs. Development of highly accurate malnutrition screening tools is, therefore, essential for its timely detection, for providing nutritional care, and for addressing the concerns related to the suboptimal predictive value of the conventional screening tools, such as the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST). We aimed to develop a machine learning (ML) based classifier (MUST-Plus) for more accurate prediction of malnutrition. Method: A retrospective cohort with inpatient data consisting of anthropometric, lab biochemistry, clinical data, and demographics from adult (≥ 18 years) admissions at a large tertiary health care system between January 2017 and July 2018 was used. The registered dietitian (RD) nutritional assessments were used as the gold standard outcome label. The cohort was randomly split (70:30) into training and test sets. A random forest model was trained using 10-fold cross-validation on training set, and its predictive performance on test set was compared to MUST. Results: In all, 13.3% of admissions were associated with malnutrition in the test cohort. MUST-Plus provided 73.07% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 69.61%–76.33%) sensitivity, 76.89% (95% CI: 75.64%–78.11%) specificity, and 83.5% (95% CI: 82.0%–85.0%) area under the receiver operating curve (AUC). Compared to classic MUST, MUST-Plus demonstrated 30% higher sensitivity, 6% higher specificity, and 17% increased AUC. Conclusions: ML-based MUST-Plus provided superior performance in identifying malnutrition compared to the classic MUST. The tool can be used for improving the operational efficiency of RDs by timely referrals of high-risk patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-12
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American College of Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


  • Malnutrition universal screening tool
  • hospital medicine
  • machine learning
  • random forest


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