Food poverty: Experts issue malnutrition health warning

Fruit & veg on supermarket shelves

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More people are suffering from malnutrition as a result of worsening food poverty, experts have warned.

The Faculty of Public Health said conditions like rickets were becoming more apparent because people could not afford quality food in their diet.

It comes after health figures recently revealed a 19% increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition over the past year.

Ministers say that billions of pounds are available to tackle health issues.

The government said the money would help councils cope with public health problems such as malnutrition.

But data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed the number of those admitted to hospital in England and Wales had risen from 5,469 to 6,520 over the past year.

Vice president of the Faculty of Public Health, John Middleton, said food-related ill health was getting worse "through extreme poverty and the use of food banks".

"It's getting worse because people can't afford good quality food. It's getting worse where malnutrition, rickets and other manifestations of extreme poor diet are becoming apparent," he said.

Summer food schemes

The faculty recently claimed that UK food prices had risen by 12% since 2007. It also noted that in the same period, UK workers had suffered a 7.6% fall in wages.

Separately, numerous schemes have been running throughout the summer holidays to help families feed their children.

Children being served food

The Kellogg's Holiday Breakfast Club, the Fun and Food In School Holidays initiative and the Ashram Housing Association's Holiday Kitchen are among the schemes running across the UK.

Muna Choudhury from Ashram said: "We heard from the families we work with the summer holidays can prove to be a struggle.

"Families were finding it difficult to find affordable activities and to provide extra meals."

Manchester GP Aisha Awan said healthy food did not have to be expensive, suggesting tinned food - as long as it was not high in sugar or salt.

She added: "If you buy them [tins] they keep for longer - they're often a cheaper option for people who might be on a budget."

Signs of being malnourished

The main symptom of malnutrition is rapid weight loss - usually 5-10% within a few months. Other signs include:

  • weak muscles
  • constantly feeling tired
  • an increase in illnesses or infections
  • children will not grow as quickly
  • and will show changes in behaviour becoming irritable, sluggish and anxious.

Source: NHS Choices

Shoplifting 'rising'

Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme some people were resorting to committing crime "simply to live".

"The evidence shows that shoplifting and theft in general is rising exponentially and there must be a reason for that," he said, adding that it was important to address the causes of such crimes.

Health Minister Dan Poulter insisted that the government wanted everyone to live a healthy life and that a good diet was essential.

He said the rise in malnutrition could be partly due to better diagnosis and detection by health professionals of people at risk.

"We want to reduce levels of malnutrition, particularly amongst frail and elderly people," Dr Poulter added.

"We are working with Age UK on a half a million pound project, which aims to tackle the issue in a range of health and care settings.

"We've also given local authorities a £5.4bn budget over two years to help them manage public health issues, including malnutrition, in their areas."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    Isn't part of the problem that some people don't have the same facilities as the rest of us for bulk buying / bulk cooking such as no freezer, nowhere to keep fresh vegetables and fruit at an appropriate temperature and/or no spare cash to take advantage of supermarket offers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    I just worked out that my food today will cost me £3.18 that's £22.26 a week & while I do try to save my money(I don't trust the govt to look after my health or old age) I could do a lot more. I used to grow all my own veg & could easily do that again. I've never been in debt, I don't smoke or gamble & I brew my own beer. I spend what I don't save on seeing the world. work hard & live well, easy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    I'm not poor now, but have been and not so long ago. I faced the most punitive benefits system of all - single no children. I did know how to eat & sufficently well to protect my health. No fast food, nothing needing a lot of cooking, markets, gathering blackberries, growing veg/berries from plants bought at jumble sales, lots of eggs & pulses, lots of home made soup.Walking miles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    Let's get the food bank issue straight: almost all food banks allow a very limited time, sometimes only a week. They are a very short-term solution, designed to help people overcome unexpected or unavoidable changes in circumstances. This can be loss of a job, or simply waiting for your first payday in a new job. It is emphatically not possible to live long-term on gifts from a food bank.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    Our street used to have butchers, bakers, green grocers etc, now it is an endless parade of fast food outlets: chicken, pizza, curry, fish and chips etc. Young people don't know how to cook a meal any more but they know how to order take away. There should be a limit on how many fast food outlets can open in an area.


Comments 5 of 21


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