Malnutrition Is A Hidden Epidemic In The UK – Here Are The Signs

It's thought nearly three million people are experiencing, or at risk of, malnutrition right now.
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Despite the UK being one of the richest countries in the world, there are still nearly three million people experiencing – or who are at risk of – malnutrition right now.

And the number of people over 75 years of age – those with the highest risk of malnutrition – is projected to almost double in the next 25 years.

Malnutrition is caused by not eating enough, or not eating enough of the right foods to give your body the nutrients it needs.

This is often as a result of families not being able to afford or access nutritious foods like fruit and vegetables, legumes, meat and milk, while foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are cheaper and more readily available.

The cost of living crisis isn’t helping matters, either. In the UK, food and non-alcoholic drink prices rose by 17% in the year to June 2023.

According to The Mirror, cases of malnutrition have quadrupled since 2007-2008, with 11,000 people hospitalised for the issue in 2022.

Malnutrition can lead to a wealth of health issues and, when left untreated, can stunt growth, develop into heart disease and promote mental health issues.

The long-term impacts of malnutrition include a weakened immune system, making the recurrence of Victorian diseases in the UK all the more concerning.

As a result, early detection and seeking support is really important in preventing further health issues down the line.

Signs of malnutrition

According to the NHS, most people who are malnourished will lose weight – but it’s still possible to be considered a healthy weight or even overweight and malnourished.

If you unintentionally lose 5-10% of your body weight within a space of three to six months; your BMI is under 18.5; or clothes, belts and jewellery become looser over time, the NHS urges you to speak to your GP.

Other symptoms include:

  • Reduced appetite
  • Lack of interest in food and drink
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling weaker
  • Getting ill often and taking a long time to recover
  • Wounds taking a long time to heal
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling cold most of the time
  • Low mood, sadness and depression.

Help and support

People who are experiencing malnutrition are usually advised to: eat fortified foods that are high in calories and protein, snack between meals and have drinks that contain lots of calories. They might also be offered extra supplements or vitamins by their GP.

If you’re struggling to afford food, your GP, JobCentre Plus, a social worker, Citizens Advice, or the police can refer you to a food bank so you can receive vouchers or parcels to meet the needs of your family.

According to StepChange, you will usually get enough meals for three days, toiletries and cleaning products and top-ups for gas or electric prepayment metres, as well as signposting to other services that can help you.

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