Coke,ritain is fat. We know that. Chefs B and doctors, footballers and even pop stars tell us over and over again, in campaigns against the obesity epidemic. But now, as The Independent on Sunday reveals, new data show that an alarming number of Britons actually suffer from malnutrition. Doctors estimate that more than three million people are malnourished. Most do not re-alise it, although diagnosis rates in hospitals have soared by 44 per cent over the past five years. The most extreme cases echo symptoms found among famine victims in the developing world.
Wasted limbs and pot bellies are being seen in British hospitals, where 40 per cent of patients are thought to be malnourished. Marasmus, the protein deficiency most often seen in Africa, has been found among anorexic women here. But the majority of cases are people who lack the vitamins and nutrients vital for the body to function properly. Malnourishment has recently been recognised as a major problem for the sick, elderly and frail, but new statistics gathered for the Department of Health show it affects pregnant women and newborn babies, schoolchildren and adults who believe themselves to be healthy.
One woman who vomited frequently during pregnancy developed a vitamin deficiency that went undiagnosed. She suffered brain damage. The calcium shortage found in 8 per cent of young people can lead to crumbling or brittle bones. “If you are young and well, you can still end up malnourished,” said Dr Alistair McKinlay, consultant gastro-enterolo-gist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and one of the country’s leading authorities on the condition. “In 75 per cent of people, the problem is not identified. ” Malnutrition costs the NHS [pound]7. bn a year according to the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, the experts in the field. That figure is more than double the estimated cost of obesity. Alcohol and drugs can disturb the balance of our bodies – but the main cause, doctors believe, is a poor diet. So how can this be? When there is so much food about, from low-fat diet meals to high- fat takeaways, how can so many people be short of the nutrients essential for a healthy life? What has gone wrong between the British and our food?
Gordon Ramsay, one of the best chefs in the world, blames habits learned in the home. “If we are going to be a healthy nation then you’ve got to discipline the parents,” he told the IoS in a rare interview. “The only way to implement severe standards now is if their kids become obesely overweight and out of control. Then I would seriously fine [the parents] and threaten them with a court appearance, because they often don’t realise what they’re doing. ” Children need to be given a strong lead, he said. “Children eat with their eyes. They’re lazy.
If you don’t tell them about what they’re eating, trust me, they will eat as much crap as they can when they get home. They get connected to junk food in a way that becomes obsessive. ” The Michelin-star winning father of four gave his children tripe the other week, in a stew with red peppers, tomato and garlic. He didn’t tell them what it was. “It was absolutely delicious. They said, ‘What was that? ‘ I showed them a picture of a cow, and took out the stomach bag, and their faces dropped. But they asked for it again. ” Ramsay was full of praise for the efforts of Jamie Oliver to improve school dinners. He helped to make every parent feel guilty, for the first time, about what their children were eating at school. He woke everyone up. ” Oliver said: “I think many parents are unaware of how much junk their kids are eating and drinking. ” He added: “As well as the frightening rise in obesity there’s a growing number of kids, of whatever shape and size, that simply aren’t getting fed enough nutrients like iron, calcium and vitamins. It’s having a huge effect on their brainpower, behaviour and ability to concentrate and learn at school. ” Adults may not realise they have serious problems.
The national diet and nutrition surveys carried out by the Department of Health show two-thirds of women are short of vitamin B2, riboflavin, which can cause a range of illnesses (so are nearly a quarter of pre- school infants). Young men and women alike have high levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which indicates their vitamin levels are disturbed. Doctors believe our drinking culture must take part of the blame. People are eating less home-cooked food and more junk, said Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum formed to tackle the epidemic.
Fast food can not only make you fat, it can also leave you malnourished. “I would definitely question the vitamin and mineral trace of some fast food outlets. ” Hospital food also came under severe attack last year when the Government admitted that many elderly people were not getting enough vitamins, nutrients and fatty acids. The trouble is that most doctors were trained during a time when malnutrition appeared to have died out, said Dr Waine. “The best diet we had was during the First World War when we had a good rationing system – people had the right nutrients in the right amounts. Bianca Incocciati’s GP did not realise her patient’s skin problems were a result of micronutrient malnutrition. “You think it happens to starving children in the third world,” said Ms Incocciati. “You don’t expect it to happen to you. It’s scary. ” The doctor she went to for a second opinion asked what she had been eating. Ms Incocciati was studying English at Warwick University and waitressing at a French restaurant in the evenings, scoffing late at night and unable to face breakfast.
After closing, the restaurant’s chefs sometimes whipped up a rich dinner, heavy on cheese and creamy sauces, for the staff. At other times she would snack at home on pasta or toast. She was also a self-confessed crisp addict. “I felt I had no energy at all,” she said. “I was always tired and constantly had a cold. I had spots all the time too. ” Ms Incocciati was shocked to be told she had very low levels of vitamin A, vitamin B12 and iron. “Eating late, you’re not digesting food properly. Getting up late, having a coffee, you’re running on empty. After two weeks of increasing her fruit and vegetable intake and eating more regularly Ms Incocciati had more energy and felt more “with it”. After four months she had lost weight. Eighteen months since she was diagnosed, she is a reformed character. “Where I’d been going wrong was that I wasn’t cooking food at home, wasn’t making sure I was having vegetables and fruit. ” Her parents had given her an example Gordon Ramsay would approve of. “They were always really good about having dinner together and having cooked meals. ” But despite their best efforts she grew into bad habits. Once you leave home, it’s easy to buy rubbish. ” Ms Incocciati was not alone. Despite all the campaigns to educate people about healthy eating, as our reports today show, for three million malnourished people the message still has-n’t got through. What is malnutrition? Malnutrition is caused by a deficiency, excess or imbalance of energy, protein and other nutrients. The condition may result from an inadequate or unbalanced diet, digestive difficulties, absorption problems or other medical conditions. It is a chronic condition, which can injure the spleen and stomach.
Malnutrition can occur because of a chronic lack of one key vitamin or because the body isn’t getting enough food. Starvation is an extreme form of malnutrition and can occur even in people who are clinically obese. The symptoms of malnutrition include acute weight loss, losing hair, muscle wastage, a swollen abdomen, a dull yellow complexion and dry, crinkled skin. Sufferers also have dull eyes, listlessness, tiredness, cravings and brown stained teeth. In extreme cases it can be fatal and lead to anaemia, beriberi, goitre, scurvy and rickets.
How your diet should have got healthier 1977 Breakfast: Quaker Porridge Oats with full-fat milk, a boiled egg and toast Lunch: canned ham and pickle sandwiches, and an apple Dinner: homemade meatloaf with boiled potatoes and boiled cabbage, followed by a bowl of homemade rice pudding. 1987 Breakfast: toast and jam, eggs, bacon and fried tomato, orange juice Lunch: hamburger and fries, Mars Bar, Coke, an orange Dinner: macaroni cheese/frozen breadcrumbed turkey burgers (microwaved), Wall’s ice cream, apple. 1997
Breakfast: banana, breakfast bar, toast and Marmite, sugarcoated cereal/bacon sandwich, orange juice Lunch: bacon, lettuce and tomato roll/ Coronation chicken sandwich, crisps, nectarine Dinner: lasagne, green salad, rhubarb crumble. 2007 Breakfast: fruit salad, muesli, yoghurt, smoothie, coffee Lunch: chicken Caesar salad/chorizo and roast pepper sandwich/ lentil pasta salad, passion fruit juice, mango Dinner: Stir-fried noodles with organic chicken and crispy vegetables, with a tomato and onion salad on the side.