The issue of malnutrition amongst children has traditionally, although not exclusively, focused on malnutrition in the developing world. However, malnutrition or undernutrition in children in the UK is an increasing problem, which this report looks at in more detail and highlights recommendations into what needs to be done to improve this.

Our aims:

While much focus has been on obesity as a growing national problem in adults and children, the associated links between this and undernutrition (which may be manifested in either under or over weight) do not appear to be highlighted as an alternative way to tackle this problem. 

What we did: 

  • Over 90 telephone and face-to-face interviews were held with parents with school age children, as well as health and care professionals, across four different sites
  • Held informative discussions, which led to innovative and practical suggestions for improving information, supporting parents and tackling the problem from a different perspective.

Our findings:

The problem of under-nutrition in children is growing in some areas of the UK and professionals are concerned about the potential impact this will have on future generations in terms of health and wellbeing and life expectancy.

What emerged were numerous examples of positive efforts in working with children and families across agencies, particularly by public health teams, community and acute health staff.

The development of local pathways and protocols, the use of specialist teams; use of innovative practical solutions and the tremendous work being carried out by the voluntary sector. These developments included the significant role food banks are playing nationally to address the growing problem of under-nutrition in children.

Parents want information that places more on the importance of nutritional content of food, explaining why this is important rather than a more negative, judgemental approach which parents felt was sending out confusing messages about what not to eat.

Based on the findings outlined in this report, the Child Malnutrition Advisory Group makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: A staff awareness raising campaign about undernutrition is developed for all relevant professionals including commissioners and providers in the NHS and Local Authorities.

Recommendation 2: A public awareness raising campaign about undernutrition and its potential impact on health is developed in conjunction with Change 4 life, Public Health England and NHS England building on the ideas suggested by parents and staff in this project.

Recommendation 3: A campaign is targeted at professionals and the public via social media, which includes links with Change 4 life.

Recommendation 4: Links are made with Health Education England to ensure that the identification and treatment of undernutrition are included in existing and new staff training programmes.

Recommendation 5: A greater focus is given to the use of an assessment tool, which identifies under-nutrition.

Recommendation 6: The role of the Chief Medical Officer is explored to champion the issues around under-nutrition.

Recommendation 7: The use of food banks and children’s centres is maximized to communicate with parents about nutrition to ensure a non–judgmental and non-threatening approach based on the learning from the consultation in this project.

Recommendation 8: The Red book is explored as a means of providing information to parents such as a one-page summary of information on nutrition or a template for local areas to add information to.

Recommendation 9: National guidance and a care pathway is developed specifically for undernutrition to cover wider aspects of underweight and overweight.

Recommendation 10: A definition of under-nutrition is agreed which includes both underweight and overweight – i.e. when there is a lack of nutrients.

Recommendation 11: A series of templates should be produced centrally which could be downloaded locally to ensure consistency of messages.

Recommendation 12: The findings are submitted to NICE as part of the Faltering Growth Guidelines but also to ask whether guidelines for children regarding nutritional support could be provided.

Read the full report on child undernutrition here

For more information please contact Heather Eardley, Head of Projects and Partnerships on [email protected]  or 07872 633 189.