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Malnutrition Awareness Week 2021

According to the global hunger index 2020 821.6 million people are considered undernourished or starving. There are 516.5 million malnourished individuals living in the Asia and Pacific region and 239 million malnourished living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This past week was malnutrition awareness week 2021. How much do you know about malnutrition?

Malnutrition occurs at different rates globally and is a term encompassing both overnutrition as well as undernutrition. According to the World Health Organization, Malnutrition suggests deficiencies, excesses, or the imbalance of nutrients in an individual. The UK is facing a rising surge of malnutrition that is damaging individuals and threatening the economy. Research suggests that the United Kingdom has the third-highest rate of obesity in Europe. In fact, one in 10 children are living with adults who report experiencing severe food insecurity (WHO, 2017). The Association of UK Dietician (BDA) highlighted that around 3 million people in the United Kingdom are Malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

Research from international data shows that a much higher percentage of children in the UK (10%) are living in severe food insecurity compared with other European countries, where the average is 4%. Children who are exposed to food insecurity are more likely to face adverse health outcomes and developmental risk including impaired academic performance, behavioural problems and psychosocial problems which may be due to the shame of not having food.

Spotting Malnutrition

All countries are impacted by one of more forms of malnutrition. Malnourished can present as low weight for height, stunting, and low weight for age. It could be a lack in the important vitamins and mineral nutrients or excesses in nutrients or being overweight and people who do not have much to eat.

Poverty in older people, food insecurity and inequality have been linked to risk of malnutrition. Certain factors that contribute to malnutrition in older people are a mixture of physiological, health, social isolation needs and decreased appreciation of food drinks and inability to prepare food.

Malnutrition can affect anyone; however, it is prevalent with individuals diagnosed with long term health needs. Malnutrition can happen over a long period of time which makes it difficult to spot. Certain common signs of malnutrition depend on the individual deficiencies.

  • Loss of muscles strength

  • Lack of interest in food or fluid intake

  • Tiredness or exhaustion

  • Mood swings

  • Unexpected weight Loss

  • Limited mobility or low income

  • Poor growth

Preventing and Managing Malnutrition

  • Malnutrition treatment should be tailored to the needs of the individuals however, for if individuals are not able to eat food through their mouth they can be provided through tube feeding

  • Starting to feed individuals with severe malnutrition should be done in a slow and controlled way by experts in re-feeding.

  • A balanced diet is essential for wellbeing. Malnourished individuals with poor appetite or any of the commons signs of malnutrition should incorporate nutrient dense food/drinks. These are helpful as they are nutrient rich food that can be given in smaller volumes.

  • Incorporate varieties of food rich in nutrients for example, protein, starch fruits and vegetables

  • Hydration! Make the effort to drinking at least six to eight glasses of water every day and take drinks which contain nutrients such as milky drinks, hot chocolate, smoothies and milkshakes

  • Eat smaller meals more often

  • Choose healthy meals that you enjoy and are easy to prepare

  • Ensure the meal look pleasant and appetising

  • Explore community support for malnourished individuals with mobility and healthy needs to prepare meals for days and support social interactions


Malnutrition is a common problem and if it is not spotted or treated it can have huge health impacts on individual and the wider community. Food is vital to life. However, the rise in food prices, poverty, natural disasters and the recent pandemic have increasingly impacted the health of diets. Therefore, the production of food may require a holistic proactive approach by policy makers in tackling malnutrition and food insecurity in the United Kingdom.


Ngozi Ekomaru

Child and family social worker


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