helen willisMalnourishment among the older population is to be confronted head on by a new government-funded venture.

The Malnutrition Prevention Project aims to increase diagnosis and treatment of malnutrition as well as improve care and support for older people to stop them 'slipping through the net'.

A total of 1 million people over the age of 65 in England suffer from or are at risk of the condition, making them susceptible to poor health.

Helen Willis, dietitian at Wiltshire Farm Foods (pictured), said: “Healthcare professionals working in the community will not be surprised by the Age UK report released at the end of 2013 revealing that one million people aged over 65 are malnourished, but perhaps the more unexpected finding, is that 93 per cent of these people are living in the community.

“Eating a balanced diet is one of the most important factors when it comes to living independently in later life, but as we get older we’re faced by many challenges from lack of appetite, to the need for specialist diets, mobility issues and of course dysphagia. What might start as skipping the occasional meal, swapping a hot meal for a sandwich or not drinking enough water, can soon escalate into a long-term health issue, hospital admission or even fatality. As our ageing population is set to double before 2050 and as families chose to live further and further apart, the prevalence of malnutrition in the community can only increase unless something changes.

“It is easy to turn a blind eye to early warning signs of malnutrition, particularly when nutrition is such a personal issue and advice can be seen as intervention or interference. But it is here that healthcare professionals can add real value by becoming an essential part of the early warning system - initiating conversation and stimulating change in behaviour. By putting nutrition higher up on the agenda in hospitals, GP surgeries and in the community, we can get people talking about food and drink and most importantly, enjoying mealtimes in their own home for as long as possible.” 

Individuals who have a low body mass index and are underweight, or those who are losing weight without trying, will be the focus of the project. The scheme will be run by the Malnutrition Task Force, a group of experts - which includes Age UK - set up last year to address preventable malnutrition and dehydration in older people.

It is being piloted in 5 areas of the country, 2 of which, in Lambeth and Southwark in London, and Salford, will begin in January.