Objective: To characterize malnutrition in a nonspecific group of newly admitted hospital patients. Design: A prospective, descriptive study aiming to identify typical symptoms of malnutrition in a heterogeneous population of newly admitted patients to the wards of internal medicine. Setting: The wards of internal medicine of the VU University Medical Center. Subjects: A total of 106 patients were included in the study, 70 patients underwent the full interview. Next to nutritional status, the sociodemographics, underlying disease, estimated care complexity, care situation before admission, journey through the care system, nutritional intervention and nutritional follow-up after discharge were described for each patient. Results: Of 70 patients 24 (34%) were malnourished. Malnourished patients suffered two chronic diseases vs one for well-nourished patients (P =0.05). They also had a higher estimated care complexity (P =0.035) and a trend towards longer length of hospital stay (P =0.09). Malnourished patients did not differ from well-nourished patients in age, sex, partner status and care received at home. In all, 54% of the malnourished patients were identified correctly by the medical staff. The reasons for admission to the hospital were diverse in only four out of 24 patients malnutrition was the primary reason for admission. Discharge letters to the general practitioner (GP) contained only fragmentary information about the patients' nutritional status. At 3 months after discharge, most of the GPs were scarcely aware of any nutritional problems of their patients. Conclusions: Malnutrition is difficult to recognize in a nonspecific hospital population. Patients do not present with unique symptoms indicating malnutrition. To be able to correctly identify all malnourished patients, screening of the nutritional status of all newly admitted patients seems to be necessary.