What is malnutrition and does it exist in the UK?

Malnutrition refers to a condition where a person's diet or lifestyle does not provide adequate nutrients for optimal health, or there is an imbalance in the intake of nutrients. It includes both undernutrition (lack of essential nutrients) and overnutrition (excessive intake of certain nutrients).


Malnutrition in developed countries

Despite the abundance of food, malnutrition still exists in developed countries due to several factors:

  • Socioeconomic inequality: Poverty and lack of access to healthy foods.
  • Poor dietary choices:Preference for convenience foods, which are often high in calories but low in nutrients.
  • Lack of cooking skillsor basic diet and nutrition advice
  • Health conditions: Diseases or conditions that impair nutrient absorption or increase nutrient needs.
  • Mental health issues: Disorders like depression or anorexia can lead to poor eating habits.

Iron deficiency in the UK

Iron deficiencyis the most widespread nutrient deficiency in the world, leading to iron deficiency anaemia, which is characterised by fatigue, weakness, and pale skin. 

This deficiency is primarily caused by inadequate dietary intake of iron-rich foods, increased iron needs during pregnancy, menstruation, or growth spurts in children, absorption issues due to conditions like celiac disease or gastrointestinal surgeries, and chronic blood loss from gastrointestinal bleeding. 

It is particularly common among women of childbearing age, young children, and adolescents, with studies indicating that approximately 23% of pregnant women and 12% of premenopause women in the UK are iron deficient. This is of grave concern considering the impact this could have on a baby’s development.

In addition to Iron, vitamin Aand iodineare also common deficiencies.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Micronutrient deficiencies can cause visible and dangerous health conditions, but they can also lead to less clinically notable reductions in energy level, mental clarity and overall capacity. This can lead to reduced educational outcomes, reduced work productivity and increased risk from other diseases and health conditions.” As a result of less obvious symptoms, they are often overlooked in our modern healthcare system or not recognised.  

Other types of deficiencies

Low protein

Low protein intake can result from poor-quality diets and a high reliance on processed vegan foods, rather than homecooked food, resulting in a lack of adequate protein sources. Insufficient protein in your diet can impact any illnesses you may have or develop, leading to a weakened immune response and delayed wound healing. 

Very low-fat diets

Often pursued for weight loss or due to health misconceptions, these diets can lead to poor absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), resulting in dry skin, hormonal imbalances and other health conditions. 

Low carbohydrate diets

This is where carbohydrate intake is severely restricted and can result in low fibre intake and knock-on issues with digestion, poor gut microbiome health, and increased risk of constipation.

Faddy diets

Diets that eliminate entire food groups like gluten-free diets without medical need, can cause nutrient deficiencies due to lack of variety and essential nutrients. 

Gut health and systemic health

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also significantly impact gut health and overall health in the following ways:

  • Ironis essential for energy production and immune function. Deficiency can lead to anaemia, causing fatigue and decreased immune function.
  • Vitamin Dis critical for bone health and immune function. Deficiency can lead to bone disorders like rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
  • Vitamin B12 is necessary for nerve function and red blood cell production. Deficiency can cause neurological issues and a form of anaemia.
  • Magnesiumis involved in numerous biochemical reactions. Deficiency can contribute to muscle cramps, mental disorders and impact on heart disease.
  • Zincis important for immune function and wound healing. Deficiency can lead to impaired immune response and skin issues.

How a nutritional therapist can help

As a nutritional therapist, I can help in the following ways. 

Assess dietary intake

Evaluate your diet to identify any deficiencies or imbalances.

Create personalised plans

Develop tailored nutrition plans to meet individual needs, considering any medical conditions or lifestyle factors.

Provide education and dispel myths

Provide information on the importance of balanced nutrition and how to achieve it with everyday foods.

Monitor progress

Help you track your progress and make necessary adjustments to your nutrition plan.

Support gut health

Recommend foods rich in fibre and probiotics to support a healthy gut microbiome.

Address barriers

Help you overcome barriers to healthy eating, such as budget constraints or lack of cooking skills.

Collaborate with healthcare providers

Work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to ensure comprehensive care, especially for clients with chronic conditions.

To find out more about how I can help you, please schedule a complimentary call via my profile.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
London SW15 & W1H
Written by Melody Mackeown, mBANT, CNHC, BSEM | Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach
London SW15 & W1H

Melody Mackeown is a Nutritional Therapist who specialises in gut disorders.

If you are looking to work with an expert who can help you figure out the best foods for you without the guesswork or faddy diets you are in the right place. Together, we can help figure out the root cause of your digestive problems and find effective solutions.

Show comments

Find a nutritionist dealing with Malnutrition

All nutrition professionals are verified

All nutrition professionals are verified