We included 244 randomised clinical trials with 28,619 participants that met our inclusion criteria. We considered all trials to be at high risk of bias. Two trials accounted for one-third of all included participants. The included participants were heterogenous with regard to disease (20 different medical specialties). The experimental interventions were parenteral nutrition (86 trials); enteral nutrition (tube-feeding) (80 trials); oral nutrition support (55 trials); mixed experimental intervention (12 trials); general nutrition support (9 trials); and fortified food (2 trials). The control interventions were treatment as usual (122 trials); no intervention (107 trials); and placebo (15 trials). In 204/244 trials, the intervention lasted three days or more.
We found no evidence of a difference between nutrition support and control for short-term mortality (end of intervention). The absolute risk was 8.3% across the control groups compared with 7.8% (7.1% to 8.5%) in the intervention groups, based on the risk ratio (RR) of 0.94 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.86 to 1.03, P = 0.16, 21,758 participants, 114 trials, low quality of evidence). We found no evidence of a difference between nutrition support and control for long-term mortality (maximum follow-up). The absolute risk was 13.2% in the control group compared with 12.2% (11.6% to 13%) following nutritional interventions based on a RR of 0.93 (95% CI 0.88 to 0.99, P = 0.03, 23,170 participants, 127 trials, low quality of evidence). Trial Sequential Analysis showed we only had enough information to assess a risk ratio reduction of approximately 10% or more. A risk ratio reduction of 10% or more could be rejected.
We found no evidence of a difference between nutrition support and control for short-term serious adverse events. The absolute risk was 9.9% in the control groups versus 9.2% (8.5% to 10%), with nutrition based on the RR of 0.93 (95% CI 0.86 to 1.01, P = 0.07, 22,087 participants, 123 trials, low quality of evidence). At long-term follow-up, the reduction in the risk of serious adverse events was 1.5%, from 15.2% in control groups to 13.8% (12.9% to 14.7%) following nutritional support (RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.85 to 0.97, P = 0.004, 23,413 participants, 137 trials, low quality of evidence). However, the Trial Sequential Analysis showed we only had enough information to assess a risk ratio reduction of approximately 10% or more. A risk ratio reduction of 10% or more could be rejected.
Trial Sequential Analysis of enteral nutrition alone showed that enteral nutrition might reduce serious adverse events at maximum follow-up in people with different diseases. We could find no beneficial effect of oral nutrition support or parenteral nutrition support on all-cause mortality and serious adverse events in any subgroup.
Only 16 trials assessed health-related quality of life. We performed a meta-analysis of two trials reporting EuroQoL utility score at long-term follow-up and found very low quality of evidence for effects of nutritional support on quality of life (mean difference (MD) -0.01, 95% CI -0.03 to 0.01; 3961 participants, two trials). Trial Sequential Analyses showed that we did not have enough information to confirm or reject clinically relevant intervention effects on quality of life.
Nutrition support may increase weight at short-term follow-up (MD 1.32 kg, 95% CI 0.65 to 2.00, 5445 participants, 68 trials, very low quality of evidence).