The present study evaluated whether fat mass assessment using the triceps skinfold (TSF) thickness provides additional prognostic value to the Global Leadership Initiative on Malnutrition (GLIM) framework in patients with lung cancer (LC). We performed an observational cohort study including 2672 LC patients in China. Comprehensive demographic, disease and nutritional characteristics were collected. Malnutrition was retrospectively defined using the GLIM criteria, and optimal stratification was used to determine the best thresholds for the TSF. The associations of malnutrition and TSF categories with survival were estimated independently and jointly by calculating multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios (HR). Malnutrition was identified in 808 (30·2 %) patients, and the best TSF thresholds were 9·5 mm in men and 12 mm in women. Accordingly, 496 (18·6 %) patients were identified as having a low TSF. Patients with concurrent malnutrition and a low TSF had a 54 % (HR = 1·54, 95 % CI = 1·25, 1·88) greater death hazard compared with well-nourished individuals, which was also greater compared with malnourished patients with a normal TSF (HR = 1·23, 95 % CI = 1·06, 1·43) or malnourished patients without TSF assessment (HR = 1·31, 95 % CI = 1·14, 1·50). These associations were concentrated among those patients with adequate muscle mass (as indicated by the calf circumference). Additional fat mass assessment using the TSF enhances the prognostic value of the GLIM criteria. Using the population-derived thresholds for the TSF may provide significant prognostic value when used in combination with the GLIM criteria to guide strategies to optimise the long-term outcomes in patients with LC.