Recent European Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition guidelines highlighted the interest of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malnutrition in the management of coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) patients. The aim of our study was to evaluate the prevalence of malnutrition in patients hospitalised for COVID-19. In a prospective observational cohort study malnutrition was diagnosed according to the Global Leadership Initiative on Malnutrition (GLIM) two-step approach. Patients were divided into two groups according to the diagnosis of malnutrition. Covariate selection for the multivariate analysis was based on P <0·2 in univariate analysis, with a logistic regression model and a backward elimination procedure. A partitioning of the population was realised. Eighty patients were prospectively enrolled. Thirty patients (37·5 %) had criteria for malnutrition. The need for intensive care unit admission (n 46, 57·5 %) was similar in the two groups. Three patients who died (3·75 %) were malnourished. Multivariate analysis exhibited that low BMI (OR 0·83, 95 % CI 0·73, 0·96, P = 0·0083), dyslipidaemia (OR 29·45, 95 % CI 3·12, 277·73, P = 0·0031), oral intake reduction <50 % (OR 3·169, 95 % CI 1·04, 9·64, P = 0·0422) and glomerular filtration rate (Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemiology Collaboration; CKD-EPI) at admission (OR 0·979, 95 % CI 0·96, 0·998, P = 0·0297) were associated with the occurrence of malnutrition. We demonstrate the existence of a high prevalence of malnutrition in a general cohort of COVID-19 inpatients according to GLIM criteria. Nutritional support in COVID-19 care seems an essential element.