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Malnutrition's 'hidden cost for families'

02 February 2012

Leading charity Carers UK, supported by nutrition experts Nutricia, is calling for action to improve the nutritional care experienced by carers and their loved ones. Carers UK has published a new report into the impact on families struggling to manage the diet of ill or disabled relatives.

Malnutrition and Caring: The hidden cost for families shows that without the right advice and support, families managing health conditions of older and disabled loved ones end up struggling to cope with the serious consequences of malnutrition: further deterioration in their health, and guilt and constant worry for carers.  Yet malnutrition is largely preventable and treatable.

At least 3 million people in the UK are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition[1]. The overwhelming majority of these people (93%) live in the community and many are supported by friends and family members.  Yet Carers UK’s research of over 2,000 carers providing substantial care to frail, ill and disabled people found that one in four (25%) of carers were looking after someone who was underweight.  More worryingly, one in six (16%) were caring for someone at real risk of malnutrition but   were receiving no nutritional support.

The survey by Carers UK survey highlighted the fact that carers are not getting the vital advice or information that they need. 60% of respondents were worried about the nutrition of the person they care for, and that these worries are often left unaddressed due to a lack of knowledge about where to turn to for help, insufficient advice and information and, at times, a lack of willingness to intervene from healthcare professionals, leaving carers to struggle on their own.

In addition to the impact on families, malnutrition is putting a major strain on health services, with public expenditure on malnutrition  estimated at £13 billion[2] - more than the annual cost of obesity to the NHS - as the resulting health complications lead to avoidable hospital admissions.

Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK said: "On top of coping with the daily stresses of caring for ill or disabled loved ones, food and nutrition can be a huge source of frustration and worry for families. Carers do their best but can often end up feeling guilty and powerless to help if older or disabled loved ones struggle to eat and get the nutrition they need. Families need support, expert advice and information and training to give them confidence as they care and peace of mind. The research showed that good advice made all the difference to carers and improved everyone’s quality of life.”

Roger Phillips, Regional Vice President, Nutricia UK said: "We at Nutricia are delighted to be working with Carers UK to highlight the issue of malnutrition and its impact on carers and the people they care for. Malnutrition has been raised a lot in the press, but without examining how it affects older and disabled people living at home. This report clearly illustrates what can be done to prevent, treat and manage the problem; taking carers' needs into consideration and empowering them to speak up. This is another positive stepping stone in ensuring that those at high risk of malnutrition have access to the right nutritional care at the right time."

Baroness Greengross OBE, Chief Executive of ILC-UK and EHRC Commissioner, said: "My work on the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Home Care Inquiry, published in November, laid down a challenge to social care services. Whilst providers cope with rapidly growing demand and a challenging financial climate, they must ensure that care services always meet people's basic human rights. Access to nutrition and hydration are fundamental rights, yet too many older and disabled people and their families are left without the support they need to meet basic nutritional needs.

I welcome the report published by Carers UK and Nutricia which makes it clear that one of the key routes to tackling malnutrition is ensuring that carers and families are given the advice, information and tools they need, and are not left to struggle alone. We urgently need action at a national level to ensure we have a coherent strategy to tackle malnutrition and dehydration amongst older and disabled people."

Andy Burman, Chief Executive of The British Dietetic Association, said: “Having enough to eat and drink is one of the most basic human needs, yet today in the UK millions people are living in their own homes are going hungry.  For many, the perception of malnutrition is limited to third world countries when the sad truth tells a very different story.  In 2012, malnutrition is a major issue on our very own doorstep.

“The British Dietetic Association has been campaigning hard to highlight the horrendous levels of malnutrition in older people living in their own homes, through our Mind the Hunger Gap campaign.  We are proud to support this latest Carers UK report which highlights the wider implication malnutrition has across the board, not only on those suffering, but on their carers too.”

Dr Tim Bowling, Chair of BAPEN, said " BAPEN fully supports Carers UK call for three specific actions that will support carers to recognise the risk of malnutrition early and to ensure appropriate advice and nutrition care planning are available where required. Carers must be supported to provide good nutritional care for their relatives and action is urgently needed to promote nutritional screening in community settings with access to appropriately trained health care professionals. 

A joint national nutrition strategy is required and BAPEN is committed to co-authoring such a strategy with the Department of Health and a coalition of national partners working in the field of malnutrition. We look forward to working with Carers UK to tackle these problems effectively and put an end to avoidable malnutrition."

Carers UK and Nutricia are calling for:

  • quality information and advice about nutrition to be available for all carers who need it - for some this may be dietary advice, others may need medical nutrition
  • screening for malnutrition to be a standard part of GP consultations and social care professionals to have the training and tools to spot the signs of malnutrition
  • a Joint National Strategy for Malnutrition which ensures there is a consistent standard of nutritional care across the country.


Carers UK:

Steve McIntosh, Policy and Public Affairs Manager

020 7378 4937, 07875724088, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy and Public Affairs

020 7378 4935 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


0845 250 1012 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


  1. The full report and detailed recommendations will be available at from 7th February 2012
  2. For case studies and to find out more about the impact malnutrition has on families click here
  3. Malnutrition and caring: The hidden cost for families is part of Carers UK and Nutricia’s Care about nutrition, care with nutrition campaign to raise the profile of malnutrition and promote good nutrition among people who are cared for.
  4. Over 2,000 members of Carers UK answered a survey about their experiences of managing someone’s diet and nutritional requirements. Telephone interviews with carers inform the case studies in the report.
  5. For more information, advice and support on care with nutrition please visit:
  6. BAPEN has developed a number of the solutions including a validated screening tool ('MUST'), a toolkit for commissioners and providers and e-learning modules forfront line health and social care professionals. Further details can be obtained from the BAPEN website
  7. Nutricia specialises in the delivery of advanced medical nutrition for the very young, the old and the sick. As well as being the largest specialist nutrition company in Europe, Nutricia is the market leader in the UK. Nutricia’s mission is to improve people's health through nutrition supplying high quality feeds, systems and support services to patients and health care professionals. Through the Nutricia Homeward service, nutritional feeds, enteral feeding systems and nursing care can be delivered directly to patients’ homes.
  8. Carers UK is a charity set up to support the millions of people who care for an elderly relative, a sick partner or a disabled family member. Carers UK:

- supports carers and provides information and advice about caring

- influences policy through our research based

- campaigns to make life better for carers.

[1] Elia M, Russell CA. 2009. Combating Malnutrition: Recommendations for Action. BAPEN.

[2] Elia M, Russell CA (Eds.) (2009) Combating Malnutrition: Recommendations for Action. A report by British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN)

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