Hot on the heels of Malnutrition Awareness Week (MAW2018) in the United States run by ASPEN, next week sees the launch of the first ever UK Malnutrition Awareness Week (1st – 7th October 2018) as part of a collaborative public awareness campaign by BAPEN and the Malnutrition Task Force. The week long campaign is to raise the profile of the growing issue of disease-related malnutrition in the UK.

Why is an awareness campaign needed?

The general public often think of sub-Saharan Africa when they hear the word malnutrition and don’t realise it is in fact one of the largest challenges faced by healthcare systems around the world. In the UK, over 3 million people are estimated to be at risk of malnutrition or are malnourished, with one in ten people over the age of 65 affected (1.3 million). It is appropriate then that the UK MAW launches on the International Day of Older Persons. Malnutrition risk and prevalence increases as people age and is further impacted by acute and chronic illness. This can result in people wrongly assuming weight loss and malnutrition are simply part of the ageing process and are largely unavoidable. This is not the case and the vast majority of malnutrition can be prevented or treated with appropriate nutritional screening and nutritional support. Campaigns such as the Malnutrition Awareness Week will hopefully promote the fact that malnutrition is a significant and growing public health problem and to encourage people across all health and social care settings, including individuals themselves, to be aware of it and look for it.

Disease-related malnutrition: a growing and costly problem

In healthcare settings the prevalence of malnutrition increases with age, data from the Nutrition Screening Weeks organised by BAPEN reports 33.6% adults aged over 65 years are at risk of malnutrition on admission to hospital. Malnutrition is associated with increased hospitalisation, longer durations of hospital stay, earlier readmission to hospital and poorer outcomes during the admission resulting in significantly increased costs. In the UK, malnutrition is estimated to cost the National Health Service (NHS) over £30 billion (GBP) per year and with predicted population increases, healthcare inflation and an increasingly ageing population, this is predicted to exceed £70 billion by the year 2042. Disease-related malnutrition is a global challenge currently estimated to cost the United States over $157 billion (USD) per year and the European region over €120 billion per year.

Tackling malnutrition

If malnutrition and malnutrition risk are identified they can be prevented or treated with referral to a dietitian and the initiation of appropriate nutritional support. There is a large and growing body of research demonstrating the clinical effectiveness of nutritional support and the positive impact on individuals’ quality of life. In addition, collaborative research by BAPEN and the National Institute for Health Research suggests nutritional support is one of the most clinically and cost-effective treatments available to the NHS with the potential to save NHS England over £200 million per year.