MALNUTRITION doesn't sound like a problem that affects the UK.
At least, that's what 85 per cent of Brits think, according to new research.
But a staggering three million people are malnourished or at risk, according to Danone UK & Ireland.
Despite this, a study commissioned by the brand revealed that half of the public can't spot the symptoms of the condition and a third wouldn't know where to seek help if they were affected.
If left unchecked, malnutrition risks becoming a ticking time-bomb for the health of the nation – and it could also put Brits at risk of diseases that have rarely been seen since the Victorian era.
Malnutrition refers to when your body doesn’t get enough of the right nutrients, often because of existing diseases or illnesses.
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But social and economic factors can also put you at risk of the deadly condition – the cost of living crisis raving the UK and persistently high food prices has made it hard for many to access nutritious ingredients such as fruit and veg.
According to Danone, the hidden epidemic of malnutrition is heavily misunderstood, as 62 per cent of the 2,000 people polled weren't able to define it.
More than half (54 per cent) incorrectly thought fainting and seizures were key indicators of someone suffering from malnutrition, while 40 and 34 per cent respectively thought abdominal cramps and jaundice were signs.
In reality, key symptoms can include unintentional weight loss, loose fitting clothing or feeling weak.
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Older people are particularly vulnerable and already over a million Brits over-65s are estimated to be malnourished – figures could be higher as screening for it is low.
But most people (95 per cent) in the age group who were polled said they weren't worried it might happen to them.
Worryingly, the research found people over 66 are more likely to lose interest in eating healthy, nutritious meals, while half this age group admitted they don't eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables.
One in 10 said their diet has become less healthy in the past year, with over a quarter reporting this had left them more vulnerable to illness, creating or exacerbating existing health problems.
A rise in malnutrition and lack of access to fresh ingredients seem to be fuelling Victorian-era scurvy and rickets.
Both illnesses disappeared from Britain in the 1950s, when the country embarked on mass programmes to fortify common foods with key vitamins, but cost of living pressures are believed to be driving a new surge in cases.
Danone's study found that a fifth of those over 65 were skipping at least one meal a day.
And a further 19 per cent of respondents said they were trying to save money on food.
If not identified early, malnutrition can lead to disease complications, prolonged hospital stays and can have long-term health effects.
But a third of those polled thought that simply making someone malnourished eat more would be a quick fix – in fact, treatment is much more complex.
Recent data suggests that cases of deadly malnutrition have doubled over the last decade and quadrupled since 2007/8.
From 2022 to April 2023, almost 11,000 Brits – a third of which were children – were hospitalised.
The data also revealed 171 people were treated for scurvy and 482 patients were admitted with rickets, 405 of them kids.
Commenting on Danone's findings, GP and TV medic Dr Amir Khan said that while malnutrition is "not an easy condition to spot, early detection is key and will reduce the chances of further deterioration and hospital admission".
He went on: "So, if you have a loved one you’re concerned about who may be growing more frail, or has had a dramatic change in eating habits or difficulty swallowing, then make sure you speak to a health professional or carer, particularly if they have a pre-existing condition.”
What is scurvy?
Scurvy is caused by not having enough vitamin C – mainly found in fruit and veg – for at least 3 months Vitamin C is mainly found in fruit and vegetables.
It's know as the disease of pirates and sailors, as those at sea too long would run out of the citrus fruits that stave off the condition.
While very treatable with some fresh fruit and veg, it can become deadly if left for too long.
According to the NHS, symptoms of the condition include feeling very tired, weak, irritable, sad, suffering from severe joint page, swollen and bleeding gums, and having skin that bruises easily.
What is rickets?
Rickets affects bone development in children, causing bone pain, poor growth and bone deformities.
Adults can experience a similar condition, which is known as osteomalacia or soft bones.
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It's usually caused by poor diet and a lack of exposure to sunlight.
A lack of vitamin D and calcium is the most common cause.
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