Doctors at Wigan’s hospitals have seen a sharp increase in malnutrition over the last three years and even recorded cases of rickets and scurvy which were thought eliminated decades ago.
Charities have warned that many households cannot afford a healthy diet, and called for government action to increase access to nutritious food.
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Patients were admitted to hospital with malnutrition around 80 times at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust’s hospitals in the 12 months to March 2018, according to NHS Digital data.
This was an increase of around 14 per cent from the same period two years ago, when there were 70 recorded cases.
Across England, malnutrition cases increased by 18 per cent.
Malnutrition is caused by a person’s diet containing either not enough, or too much, of the nutrients they need, according to the NHS.
Anti-poverty charity The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned that over 1.5 million UK households are regularly left struggling to afford essentials such as food.
Spokesman Chris Goulden said: “Living in poverty can severely restrict a family’s ability to put food on the table and lead a healthy life. The poorest fifth of households spend twice as much of their income on food and fuel compared with those in the richest fifth, meaning those on the lowest incomes are most vulnerable to price rises, inflation and the benefits squeeze.”
Public Health England recommends people follow its Eatwell Guide for a healthy, balanced diet. But a 2018 report by independent think tank The Food Foundation found that more than one in four households would need to spend more than a quarter of their disposable income after housing costs to meet the guide’s recommendations. For parents in the bottom 20 per cent of earners, the cost would be 42 per cent of their income.
WWL also saw cases of rickets and scurvy during 2017-18 - caused by vitamin D and C deficiencies respectively.
Coun Terry Halliwell, cabinet member for housing and welfare reform at the council said: “We are aware that some families in our borough may struggle to afford a varied diet, however, through The Deal, we are committed to supporting local community groups to deliver services that such families can benefit from.
“Everybody should have access to nutritious meals and groups such as Fur Clemt, whose motto is ‘feed bellies not bins’ and adopt ‘pay as you feel’ approach, are fantastic at ensuring local people can eat healthily within their budget.
“We will continue this partnership approach with those who are working directly in our communities to ensure individuals and families who may be struggling are able to access support in the most effective way.”
Across England, scurvy has increased by 14 per cent since 2015-16, rising to 167 incidents last year, while rickets cases fell by 10 per cent to 474 incidents.
The Food Foundation warned the figures were signs of a “broken food system”.
A Department of Work and Pensions spokeswoman said there were now fewer households with low incomes.
"We know there’s more to do ensure that every family has access to nutritious, healthy food,” she said.