“Fast foods’ are cheap, filling and easy to get, but are low in nutritious content,” she said.
“A poor diet increases a patient’s risk of developing a range of nutritional diseases – malnutrition, rickets, scurvy, vitamin and folate deficiencies which are becoming increasingly common – but can also exacerbate chronic conditions which a patient has already developed.”
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An increasing number of British people now rely on food banks. These community hubs provide an “excellent service”, says Clare Thornton-Wood, a paediatric and adult dietitian and spokesperson for the British Diabetic Association – but have their limitations.
“They are unfortunately not able to reach everyone who needs them and the fresh fruit and vegetable options are often quite limited.
“This impacts in particular on Vitamin C intake as this is a water soluble vitamin required daily as it is not able to be stored in the body. Prolonged low intake will ultimately lead to scurvy.”
As the price of energy rises, some people are opting for food that doesn’t require heating – choosing a sandwich over a more nutritious soup or pasta, for example.
“Even among those not using food banks, the need to cut back on spending on food is likely having an impact,” Thornton-Wood warns.
Cost of living crisis: Why are cases of malnutrition and Victorian diseases so high?
British food price inflation has surged at breakneck speed over the past few months, peaking at 19.2% in March.
Despite dipping slightly recently, it is unlikely to fall below 10% by the end of the year, the Bank of England predicted last month.
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High food prices make it harder for people to afford the nutrients they need. But the problem is also structural, warns Professor Hawthorne.
Funding cuts for public services over the past decade have “disproportionately” impacted the “UK’s more economically deprived communities”.
Systemic policy change is crucial – from making fresh food accessible to bolstering GP capacity.
“As the front door to the NHS, sufficient funding and support for general practice – including significant investment in retention initiatives to encourage existing GPs to stay in the profession – will be a crucial component in ensuring all patients are able to access the healthcare that they need and that we curb the rise in easily preventable and life-threatening conditions like malnutrition,” Hawthorne said.
Junior doctors and consultants in England are set to strike throughout September and October as a pay row with the government escalates.