According to Dr Elizabeth Weekes, from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, widespread attention on the so-called obesity epidemic was overshadowing the fact that 3M people in the UK were either malnourished, or at severe risk of malnutrition, at any time.
One million of those are over 65 years old and 400,000 of them live in London. The problem is more likely to be experienced in deprived areas and it is likely that “far more people are malnourished now than they were 10 years ago” due to the economic climate and government welfare cuts.
Don’t recognise a problem
“The problem we have in the UK is that people don’t recognise we have a problem [with nutrition] or, if they do think we have a problem, they think it is about obesity.
“Malnutrition costs at least as much to health and social care costs as obesity,” said Weekes at the Government Knowledge conference ‘Beating the Nutrition Recession: Tackling Food Poverty’ in London last month.
She added there were “millions of reasons” why malnutrition occurs including physical, psychological and social factors. The consequences, she said, however, were clear.
“Malnourished people are more prone to illness, less likely to recover from illness and the cost of treating someone who is malnourished in hospital is twice that of someone who is well-nourished.”
Weekes said she was particularly alarmed by the results of a recent survey, which showed that 60% of carers in the community were concerned about the nutritional intake of a patient. Furthermore, 16% of recipients reported fears that a patient was underweight or had a very small appetite and yet had no sources of nutritional support or advice.
“Another figure that staggered me was that 55% of people being cared for use nutritional supplements,” she added.
More malnourished when they left
Another stark figure she revealed was that 70% of malnourished people who were admitted to hospital were more malnourished when they left.
She told delegates it was essential a national malnutrition strategy was formulated.
“The Malnutrition Taskforce (an independent group of experts across health, social care and local government) is calling for a national strategy, particularly for the elderly, but I feel quite strongly it should be for everyone,” she added.