Pandemic fallout sees quarter of UK adults at risk of malnutrition, survey finds

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Pandemic sees 25% of UK adults at risk of malnutrition

Related tags: Malnutrition, coronavirus, hunger

Malnutrition remains a risk for one in four adults in UK, according to a newly published survey as the pandemic continues to affect access to food across all members of the household.

Findings from Feeding Britain and Northumbria University’s survey reveals that 25% of adults struggle during the pandemic to access affordable food increasing susceptibility to hunger and malnutrition.

More worryingly, around the same percentage, who look after children, admit to eating less so they can feed the children in their household.

“These findings present an appalling picture of the high percentage of adults experiencing food insecurity in the UK,” ​says professor Greta Defeyter, director of Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab.

“We need the Prime Minister to implement a national food strategy to enhance supply, affordability, and accessibility of nutritious food to everyone, while minimising the food bank use identified in this survey.

“These are often measures of last resort and do not compensate for an adequate income and the availability of affordable nutritious food within all communities.”

Cheaper food option

The survey, which questioned over 1,000 people, also finds that half of all adults have resorted to purchasing cheaper food which they would not ordinarily purchase.

That figure rises to nine in ten amongst people who live in households that are the least food secure and most susceptible to hunger and potential malnutrition.

Professor Defeyter highlights the physical and mental health impacts of food insecure adults, with oral health problems for example more prevalent in these households compared with food secure households.

Research has also linked iron deficiency, diabetes, hypertension, and hypoglycaemia to food insecurity in adults.

Several studies have an increased risk of maternal depression in food insecure pregnant women, mothers, and food assistance participants, and obesity in women as well as limit seniors ’ability to engage in their daily routine activities.

“I think that research has focussed on all aspects of dietary intake and nutrition in children, adults and the elderly,”​ adds professor Defeyter.

“However, Covid19 has shone a light on the UK’s food system and inequalities in society such as food security and household income.”

Citizens ‘exposed to hunger’

“This survey reveals the lengths to which millions of people in our country are going to keep themselves and their families fed during the pandemic,”​ says Andrew Forsey, director of Feeding Britain.

“This survey shows just how many of our fellow citizens have been exposed to hunger and potential malnutrition by a combination of low income and isolation, which has tended to follow a loss of earnings or problems with the benefits system.”

On the back of the findings, Feeding Britain adds the data in the survey emphasises the need for new policies which safeguard every household’s access to affordable food of sufficient quality and quantity.

Measures suggested includes asking the UK Treasury to initiate a jobs programme that guards against long-term unemployment and the accompanying risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Other initiatives involve the country’s Department for Education, which could introduce a seamless year-round school meals programme covering breakfast and lunch during term time and holiday periods.

This programme could include activities and support made available to families in the annual Summer Holiday.

The charity also requests action by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to support community food projects which improve fresh produce availability in deprived or isolated communities.

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