Viewpoint: Food focus

David Pearson from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services warns that malnutrition remains rife in the UK

How can it be that, in the 21st century in the fifth richest country in the world, we are still worried about people suffering from malnutrition? This is an issue which is likely to damage lives and lead to high levels of health and social care intervention in ways that are entirely preventable.

This is about educating us all about preventing this; identifying those most at risk, and ensuring that any proactive community care system assesses and plans for supporting people to ensure that malnutrition is addressed, in hospitals and homes as well as community settings.  More than three million UK residents have the potential to become malnourished.  Many are frail and elderly. About 13,000 people a year are admitted to hospital while suffering from malnutrition. That needs to change.

Public sector expenditure related to treating malnutrition is estimated to be billions of pounds a year. Yet, as Anya Harris wrote in an ADASSblog ‘policy makers do not take this matter seriously by developing strategies to improve the current situation.   Malnutrition occurs in a number of complex interrelated factors which can include social isolation, poor access to shopping facilities, poverty, and physical and learning disabilities.’ Another common misunderstanding, she says, is that as we age we naturally lose weight.  This prevents people from looking at other social and environmental factors of why an older person has lost weight.

I have argued elsewhere that it would make sense if all joined-up planning – including plans for using the Better Care Fund – should actively consider how the nutritional needs of people who are at risk or potentially at risk is actively considered in our contact with them.  We need to identify those people in the community who are most at risk and provide proactive care.

Access to nutritional food should also be incorporated into all local and community planning, so that, as Anya says, preventing and treating malnutrition and dehydration becomes the main focus of everything we do to ensure older people can live independent and fulfilling lives.

David Pearson, president, ADASS

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