British Dietetic Association calls for investment to tackle preventable malnutrition affecting millions across UK

British Dietetic Association calls for investment to tackle preventable malnutrition affecting millions across UK

06 June 2018

Recent figures have put the cost of preventable malnutrition to the NHS and wider economy in the UK as high as £28 billion, with over three million people not getting enough to eat. Malnutrition leaves people at increased risk of disease, leads to longer and more frequent hospital stays and reduces quality of life. Elderly people are most at risk, with an estimated 1.3 million over 65s thought to be malnourished.

These shocking statistics reflect a significant and under recognised problem that is very often completely preventable, especially in a country as wealthy as the UK. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is highlighting these figures as part of Dietitians Week 2018 (4-8 June), which is focused on the important preventative role that dietitians can play in tackling malnutrition as well as other major health challenges such as obesity and diabetes.

Recent analysis[1] has shown that the problem continues to be underreported, with a significant number of hospitals reporting no or very few cases of malnutrition, despite the fact that more detailed screening in some areas has shown a third of elderly people admitted to hospital are malnourished or at risk.

Malnutrition is a complex and multifaceted problem, but dietitian led programmes across the UK have had success in improving screening, reducing malnutrition rates and, most importantly, improving quality of life for patients. Programmes such as the Focus on Undernutrition in County Durham[2] and Food First based in Cambridgeshire[3] show what can be achieved with a focused approach.

“Our malnutrition rates should be a source of national shame” says BDA Chair Sian O’Shea “but this problem is often not recognised by the general public or political leaders. We need investment in services to the tackle this problem head on, and dietitians should be at the heart of that. We have plenty of excellent examples of effective solutions, but these need to be available everywhere.”

Mrs O’Shea added “Of course, our impact should not just be limited to malnutrition – we can prevent or mitigate a whole range of nutrition related conditions through effective, evidence-based interventions.”

There is also growing concern about malnutrition in working age adults and families with rising food prices and falling real term incomes[4] pushing more households into food insecurity. The Poverty and Social Exclusion Research Project in 2013 estimated that around four million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards. This figure has increased since the turn of a century, taking us back to levels last seen in the 1980s. They also found that more than one in four adults (28%) skimped on their own food last year so that others in their households could eat[5].

Notes to the editor

For more information / interview requests, please contact the BDA Press Office on: 0800 048 1714

  • The British Dietetic Association (BDA), founded in 1936, is the professional association and trade union for dietitians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the nation’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals with over 9,000 members.
    Dietitians are highly qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems at an individual and wider public health level. They are statutorily regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), alongside other Allied Health Professions. 
  • Dietitians use the most up to date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease, which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices. They work in the NHS, private practice, industry, education, research, sport, media and government. Their advice influences food and health policy across the spectrum from government and global industry to local communities and individuals.
  • For more information on malnutrition rates, visit Malnutrition Task Force
  • Read a case study on role of dietitians in tackling malnutrition.


[1] https://bsna.co.uk/uploads/banners/FINAL-Malnutrition-Map-20-February-2018.docx.pdf

[2] http://www.focusonundernutrition.co.uk/home

[3] http://www.cambscommunityservices.nhs.uk/what-we-do/bedfordshire-services/nutrition-dietetics/food-first

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-statistics-pocketbook-2017/food-statistics-in-your-pocket-2017-prices-and-expenditure#household-income-after-housing-costs-and-food-prices-in-real-terms-uk-2015-16

[5]http://www.poverty.ac.uk/system/files/attachments/The_Impoverishment_of_the_UK_PSE_UK_first_results_summary_report_March_28.pdf

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