One in 10 older people in England are said to be at risk of malnutrition, with most of the one million individuals living in the community. A third of these are said to be already malnourished, or at risk of being taken into hospital due to their condition.
With attention currently focused on obesity in the media and elsewhere, many older people think that bad eating habits only stretch to eating too much, or too many sweet or fatty foods.
Health minister Dan Poulter, a keynote speaker at the Malnutrition Task Force's first national conference in London, will reveal funding for the Malnutrition Prevention Project. Backed by the Department of Health, this scheme is a key part of the Government's response to the Francis report, which outlined the scandal at the Mid Staffs hospital in which many older patients were not able to eat and drink properly.
The Malnutrition Prevention Project looks at underweight older people. Particular attention will be paid to one scheme in Dorset where GPs will check up on older people for signs of these problems, and provide help if the condition is diagnosed.
Mr Poulter said: 'By sharing research, examples of good work and exploring practical solutions we will help NHS staff tackle and prevent malnutrition. This means that older people will get better care and more support in their own homes and communities.'
The Malnutrition Prevention Project looks at older people with a low BMI, or who are losing weight without trying. It will also look at dehydration, which is often linked to malnutrition. It aims to boost treatment and diagnosis, increase care for people at risk and raise awareness of the symptoms.
The chair of the Malnutrition Task Force and head of Age UK, Dianne Jeffrey, said that although we think of malnutrition as a problem affecting the developing world, it may come as a surprise that one million people in England are suffering from, or at risk of, malnutrition, with many of these simply being left to fend for themselves.
She added: 'The consequences of malnutrition and dehydration are very serious. People become more susceptible to illness and injury and recovery takes longer. Yet with the right support at the right time it is often preventable. We believe by raising awareness of it in the community - among older people, their families and carers and across the NHS - we can truly tackle it and help older people remain healthy and strong.'
The research from the BritainThinks organisation was commissioned for the Malnutrition Task Force.