Preventing malnutrition in later life

New research shows only half of health professionals regard malnutrition as a priority

New research by the Malnutrition Task Force reveals that only half (51 per cent) of health professionals thought malnutrition was a priority in their organisations. Only 47 per cent also felt confident that their knowledge and skills were sufficient  to help people most at risk.(i)

The survey ‘Experiences of Patient Malnutrition’ by Dods Research also shows that half (50 per cent) of the professionals interviewed felt unsure about what services or support were available in their community.(ii)

About 1.3 million people older people in the UK suffer from malnutrition, with the vast majority (93%) of those living in the community.(iii)

Malnutrition is associated with several long term conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, dementia and swallowing problems (dysphagia) as well as physical disability and social factors which can affect people in later life, such as bereavement, loneliness and isolation.

Malnourished older people also:

  • Visit their GP twice as often (iv)
  • Experience more hospital admissions and have longer lengths of stay (v)
  • Have an increased risk of infection and antibiotic use (vi)
  • Have longer recovery times from surgery and illness, and increased risk of death (vii)

Furthermore, nearly one third (32%) of older people admitted to hospital or a care home from the community are already at risk of malnutrition, as are half of patients admitted to hospital from care homes. (viii)

The Malnutrition Task Force was established in 2012 to reduce preventable malnutrition amongst older people. In 2013, the Task Force was awarded a grant by the Department of Health to develop a programme, known as the Malnutrition Prevention Programme, as part of their response to the Francis Inquiry. This Programme set out to demonstrate what could be achieved by working together across the NHS, social care, public health and with voluntary sector organisations.

Pilot sites were established in Salford, Lambeth and Southwark, Gateshead, Purbeck in Dorset and Kent to carry this out. Click here to read more about the Programme, as well as the pilot site’s work and achievements.

Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of The Malnutrition Task Force and Chairman of Age UK said:


“Eating and drinking well is a vital part of maintaining good health and independence. And while we generally think of malnutrition as a problem for low income countries, the sad fact is that many older people in the UK today are malnourished or at risk of becoming so.


“Malnutrition is a really knotty problem. While many of the interventions are relatively simple, to be really effective they require a wide range of services to come together, recognise the problem and each make a contribution towards tackling it.


“However, at the moment the sad fact is in too many areas this isn’t happening. Malnutrition is often overlooked and isn’t tackled very effectively at any point in the care journey, so many people slip through the net and never receive proper help.


“The pilots we ran last year have shown us just what can be achieved when we all work together to put malnutrition at the top of the agenda. The challenge now is to make sure that every area steps up to ensure that all older people are well nourished and get the help they need.”

The Malnutrition Task Force are hosting an event in Parliament on the 10 February to celebrate the success of the pilots and welcome the launch of NHS Commissioning Guidance.

Other information

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines a person as being malnourished if they have:

  • a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 kg/m2
  • unintentional weight loss greater than 10% within the past 3-6 months
  • a BMI of less than 20 kg/m2 and unintentional weight loss greater than 5% within the past 3-6 months

Media contacts

Media only: If you would like more information on this article, please contact Liz Fairweather on 020 3033 1718 or email


(i) Online survey of health and care professionals conducted by Dods Research, sample size 1518, fieldwork conducted between 9th and 18th December 2015
(ii) ibid
(iii) Elia M, Russell C. Combating Malnutrition: Recommendations for Action. Report from the advisory group on malnutrition, led by BAPEN. 2009.
(iv) Guest, J. F., Panca, M., Baeyens, J.P., de Man, F., Ljungqvist, O., Pichard, C.,Wait, S & Wilson, L. (2011) ‘Health economic impact of managing patients following a community-based diagnosis of malnutrition in the UK’, Clinical Nutrition, Volume 30, Issue 4 , Pages 422-429, August 2011
(v) ibid
(vi) Elia M, Stratton RJ, Russell C, Green C. & Pang F. (2005) ‘The cost of disease related malnutrition in the UK and economic considerations for the use of oral nutritional supplements (ONS) in adults’. Redditch: BAPEN.
(vii) Heismayr, M., Schindler, K., Pernicka, E. Schuh, C., Schoeniger-Hekele, A., Bauer, P., Laviano, A., Lovell, A.D., Mouhieddine, M., Schuetz, T., Schneider, S.M., Singer, P., Pichard, C., Howard, P., Jonkers, C., Grecu. I., Ljungqvist, O. & The NutritionDay Audit Team. (2009) Decreased food intake is a risk factor for mortality in hospitalised patients: The NutritionDay survey 2006’, Clinical Nutrition, 28, pp 484-491.
(viii) C A Russell and M Elia (2014) Nutrition screening surveys in hospitals in the UK, 2007-2011. BAPEN


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