However, while hunger is a prevalent form of malnutrition in developing countries, malnourishment can also be found far closer to home, here in the UK, where its impact is significant and increasing. NHS England calls malnutrition a “common problem”, affecting millions of people in the UK. It is largely a concern for those with long-term health issues that affect appetite, people who are socially isolated and with limited mobility, and most commonly, the elderly. Following a study undertaken by the Office of National Statistics, which showed that 391 people died in the UK from malnutrition in 2015, former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron called it a, “national scandal that anyone is being admitted to hospital from malnutrition.” So, what is really is to blame for such high rates of the condition, in one of the world’s richest nations?

‘Malnutrition’ means, literally, ‘poor nutrition’ and technically it can refer to over-nutrition – getting more nutrients than you need, as well as under-nutrition – not getting enough nutrients or an inadequate balance of nutrients. In the UK the available statistics for malnutrition relate only to under-nutrition, hence our focus on this issue in the Sustainable Food Trust’s recently published report, The Hidden Cost of UK Food.

Drawing on published research, the report calculated that malnutrition costs the country approximately £17 billion annually. This includes the cost of treating malnourished people in hospitals and long-term care facilities, GP visits and outpatient appointments. In general, rates of malnutrition are not due to a shortage of food per se, but to a range of complex issues which include increased consumption of processed foods and reduced preparation of meals from fresh primary ingredients, part of which relates to low incomes and part of which relates to poor nutritional education and/or the lack of adequate food preparation facilities.

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