3 million people are affected by malnutrition in the UK, we must tackle the shocking scale of this issue
Malnutrition in the UK is under-recognised and under-treated, we must identify and promote good nutrition as an integral part of all mainstream health and care pathways, writes Lord Aberdare.
The importance of nutrition was brought home to me following a period of illness some years ago, when medical nutrition products played an important part in my recovery.
But I have been shocked to learn about the scale and impact of malnutrition, right here in the UK, affecting not just those who are elderly or ill, but also young people suffering from obesity through poor eating habits, resulting in malnutrition – which after all can mean nutrition that is unsuitable or unbalanced, not just inadequate.
I put down a House of Lords question on this issue on 14 October, which turned out to be the first day of the second Malnutrition Awareness Week – of which I was previously unaware. The question will come up for answer today, just squeaking under the wire before Parliament is dissolved.
Malnutrition in the UK is under-recognised and under-treated.
There are some 3 million people living with malnutrition, including 1 in 10 older people. 1 in 6 patients are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition on admission to hospital; about 40% of people admitted to care homes are malnourished.
Patients with malnutrition have three to four times higher risk of death or other adverse health outcomes; conversely, better nutrition can deliver a 70% reduction in adverse outcomes.
Malnutrition affects up to 85% of cancer patients, with one in three likely to lose weight during their illness. Up to 63% of hip fracture patients are malnourished. Disease-related malnutrition has been estimated to cost some £20 billion a year; and the problem seems to be getting worse, not better.
These are just a few of the statistics and research findings that underline the importance of having a proper strategy to tackle malnutrition, across a wide range of healthcare, social care and community services.
There are several steps that can be taken to address this challenge.
Firstly, introducing screening for malnutrition in GP surgeries, care homes and other healthcare settings. Individuals suffering from malnutrition, or at risk of doing so, need to be identified and treated quickly.
All cancer patients, as well as other people at high risk (including those in nursing homes), must have access to a qualified dietitian.
Providing improved training for health professionals, particularly GPs, about nutrition-related issues. Many health professionals receive little or no specific training in this area, and may not recognise the significance of nutrition for positive care outcomes. Good role models are also needed among consultants and others responsible for training care staff.
There should be a clear responsibility in every part of the UK for identifying and tackling malnutrition issues, for example by appointing a Clinical Director for Nutrition nationally and in every NHS region.
We need more awareness among the general public, and encouraging people to look out for and talk about malnutrition issues. Some 75% of people think it is normal to lose weight in old age, but this is wrong. There are physiological and other factors which may cause unintended weight loss, including loss of taste for food; but good nutrition remains fundamental to healthy ageing. And there are often social causes of malnutrition, such as living in isolation, bereavement or poverty, as well as disease-related causes such as dementia and frailty.
Ultimately, good nutrition needs to be recognised and promoted as an integral part of all mainstream health and care pathways.
Lord Aberdare is a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords.
PoliticsHome Member BSNA fully supports Lord Aberdare’s call for the appointment of a National Clinical Director for Nutrition within NHS England, they state "it is important that the role of good nutritional care across health and social care is recognised." Read more HERE.