Malnutrition in Adults

Older couple eating a meal in a care home

The Issue

It is still widely believed that malnutrition is a problem restricted to the developing world. Quite simply, this is not true. Today, in the UK, millions of friends, relatives, neighbours, children and colleagues are at risk of the effects of malnutrition. Malnutrition and mortality are usually closely linked. Malnutrition lengthens hospital stays, reduces quality of life and increases the risk of developing other diseases.The cost of malnutrition in England alone was estimated to be £19.6 billion per year in 2011/12, or more than 15% of the total public expenditure on health and social care.

The reasons for why people become malnourished are varied - it may be because they cannot afford food, can't properly prepare it due to physical disabilities, have lost their appetite or have another healthcare condition that makes eating and drinking more difficult. 

Older people aged over 65 are more likely than any other age group to suffer malnutrition. Sadly, it reduced appetitite and weight loss have become regarded by some as a normal sign of getting older - but this isn't true.  

UK Malnutrition Awareness Week

The UK's first Malnutrition Awareness week ran from October 1st-7th 2018, run by BAPEN in partnership with the Malnutrition Task Force and supported by the BDA. The week aimed to shine a spotlight on the hidden problem of malnutrition in the elderly, and raise awareness of the signs and symptoms so that elderly people at risk can be identified and managed to prevent and minimise harm. 

Although the week is over, the objectives of the campaign are as relevant as ever! You can still make use of the resources below to raise awareness of malnutrition, and highlight the need for action from government and health services. 

BAPEN resources include:

We've also got some resources you can use:

What else can dietitians do?

You can also use these materials, facts and figures, plus your own personal experiences of tackling malnutrition, to highlight the scale of the problem locally at any time. Maybe write to your MP, or take an opportunity to highlight it in an elevator pitch next time you see your trust chief executive! 

Key Facts and Figures

  • More than 3 million people in the UK are at risk of malnutrition with the vast majority, about 93%, living in the community setting, 5% in residential care and 2% in hospital.

  • Over one million older people in the United Kingdom living in their own homes are suffering from malnutrition.

  • Greater use of healthcare and costs associated with malnutrition mean:
    • 65% more GP visits;
    • 82% more hospital admissions;
    • 30% longer hospital stays.

Further Information and Resources