More than 27,000 people in Leeds are officially malnourished, shocking new figures reveal.
Campaigners today called for action over the “damning” and “truly shaming” numbers, which emerged at a health conference in the city, and health bosses are now putting together an action plan.
One expert blamed spending cuts while others warned of a looming “hunger crisis” that is usually only seen in less developed countries.
Philomena Corrigan, director of delivery and service transformation for NHS Airedale, Bradford and Leeds, said: “When people talk about dehydration and malnutrition there is a widely held view that these conditions only affect people living in less developed countries. However this is not the case and every year people in Leeds, especially older people, are admitted to hospital.
“That is why we are... developing resources and raising awareness of this issue.
“We hope this means people in our city will receive appropriate care and support so they can avoid falling ill through something preventable.”
Lee Ingham, manager of Bramley Elderly Action, told the YEP: “It hurts to read about malnourishment in a city like Leeds. Although there a range of reasons why older people may be malnourished, people in this situation need to see their GP.
“Organisations like ours can put people in contact with lunch clubs [and] meals on wheels. We all have a responsibility to respond to this damming statistic, especially as winter approaches.”
According to clinical guidelines on nutrition, a person is ‘at risk or malnourished’ if they have a Body Mass Index of less than 18.5, or have had large unintentional weight loss in a short period. They are ‘at risk’ if they have eaten little or nothing for more than five days.
Those at highest risk, according to NHS Leeds, are people with mobility issues affecting their shopping and cooking, and people who are isolated.
Sue Collins, head of WRVS services in Yorkshire, said it was “the hallmark of a civil society that people are healthy and well” and the number of malnourished older people was “particularly worrying”.
Campaigners at the other end of the generational scale also expressed concern - and they fear things will get worse.
Imran Hussain, head of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, said economic factors - and the impact of spending cuts - played a massive role, and many children would be part of Leeds’s malnourished thousands.
“It’s truly shaming that children in Leeds are going hungry and malnourished and that in parts of this great, vibrant city 40 per cent of children are growing up in poverty,” he said. “In the end it will be left to public services like the NHS to pick up the pieces.”
Carmel McConnell, founder of Magic Breakfast, a charity providing free healthy breakfasts free to schools, said: “As we’ve seen from the rise of food banks and demand for support from food aid agencies, the UK hunger crisis is growing rapidly. So while these Leeds malnutrition figures are shocking, they are not surprising.
“The recession, combined with a lack of adult food skills and family time, means more people miss out on the right levels of nutrition.”