Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Malnutrition and economic crisis

The rise of food poverty in the UK

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 03 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7157
  1. David Taylor-Robinson, Medical Research Council population health scientist1,
  2. Emeline Rougeaux, research assistant2,
  3. Dominic Harrison, director of public health3,
  4. Margaret Whitehead, Duncan professor of public health1,
  5. Ben Barr, senior clinical lecturer in applied public health1,
  6. Anna Pearce, Medical Research Council population health scientist2
  1. 1Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GB, UK
  2. 2Centre for Policy Research, UCL Institute of Child Health, London, UK
  3. 3Public Health Department, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Blackburn, UK
  1. dctr{at}

García Rada highlights the rise in child poverty and child malnutrition in Catalonia, Spain, since the economic crisis.1 But closer to home, the number of malnutrition related admissions to hospital in England has doubled since 2008-09 (figure).2


Admissions related to malnutrition and number of people using food banks since economic crisis

Furthermore, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has reported a decrease in calories purchased and substitution with unhealthier foods, especially in families with young children.3 Against a backdrop of rising food prices, figures from the Trussell Trust show an exponential rise in the number of people being issued food bank vouchers by frontline care professionals.4

This has all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventive action. Because the government has delayed the publication of research it commissioned into the rise in emergency food aid in the UK,5 we can only speculate that the cause is related to the rising cost of living and increasingly austere welfare reforms. The effects of these policies on nutritional status in the most vulnerable populations urgently need to be monitored. Malnutrition in children is particularly worrying because exposures during sensitive periods can have lifelong effects, increasing the risk of cardiovascular and other adult chronic diseases.6 Access to an adequate food supply is the most basic of human needs and rights. We should not allow food poverty in the UK to be the next public health emergency.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7157


  • Competing interests: None declared.


View Abstract