A shocking report has highlighted an epidemic of malnutrition among people aged over 65.
Food expert Jane Clarke, an adviser on Jamie Oliver’s school dinners campaign, compiled the data and is launching a drive to tackle the crisis.
She blamed the problem partly on scare stories linking key foods such as milk, eggs, oils, butter and sugar to raising the risk of heart attacks.
She also spoke out against the supermarket industry which, she said, does not properly cater for older people. Previous research has suggested some pensioners resort to buying baby food because it is easier to swallow and digest.
However Ms Clarke said these do not contain sufficient nourishment for them. Her report also shows the cost of caring for patients whose condition is linked to malnourishment is estimated at more than £23billion a year.
This accounts for 15 per cent of total spending on health and social care and is higher than the cost of treating obesity.
Ms Clarke wants to present the findings of the campaign – launched by her nutrition company Nourish – to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, NHS chiefs, carers and care home owners. It aims to educate the food industry, older people and those caring for them, on how to cook a simple, nutritious meal in around 10 minutes.
She said: “Older people have become frightened to eat important foods because they’ve been told they are bad for you. So they end up undernourished and losing weight.
“This can lead to bone-wasting diseases, increased risk of infection, depression and chronic ill health.
“Meanwhile, supermarkets cater for the visual population of overweight people, with shelves filled with low-fat, low-sugar, high-fibre diet foods or else high-sugar or junk foods, with little in between. Healthy nourishment should be readily available.”
Jan Shortt, of the National Pensioners Convention, said a compounding problem is the demise of meals on wheels services. She said: “We believe it should be a statutory service. It is not just the nutritious meal, it is a monitoring function.”