The Norfolk and Waveney area has the highest rate of malnutrition in the entire country, according to a shocking new report.

The region topped a grim list compiled by Future Health, which analysed the growing problem and its impact on the health system.

The report, entitled Hiding in Plain Sight, found that Norfolk and Waveney has a malnourishment rate of 6.7pc, compared with a national average for England of 5pc.

It means around one in 15 people in the region are not getting enough of the right foods to live healthy lives.

The report's authors also put Norfolk and Waveney near the top of a separate chart for hospital admission rates for malnutrition.

They also estimate that health bosses in the region are having to devote more than 20pc of their annual budget to either treating the ill effects of malnutrition or managing it.

The study links the problem to the region's relatively elderly population, but there are growing concerns about the problems of malnutrition among the young.

One Norfolk headteacher has warned that children are coming to school with bowed legs, as a result of malnutrition, with some youngsters even trying to eat sand because they are so hungry.

Eastern Daily Press:


The research compares malnutrition rates in 'integrated care boards' - which oversee NHS organisations in different regions.

It estimates the issue costs the English healthcare system a total of £22.6bn a year, but says that the impact is not felt evenly across the country.

Poorer, older populations have higher rates of malnutrition and the study's authors single out coastal as well as northern areas as having particularly acute problems.

However, despite high levels in a number of northern areas, it is Norfolk and Waveney - along with the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly - that have the joint unhappy distinction of the highest rate of 6.7pc.

Norfolk and Waveney is the only area in the east of England with a rate of more than 6pc.

The lowest malnutrition rates are in the more affluent south east.

Eastern Daily Press:

Norfolk and Waveney also featured near the top of the chart for additional hospital admissions per year for people with malnutrition.

The region recorded the third highest rate (3.7pc) for admissions linked to malnourishment, behind Cornwall (3.8pc) and North East London (4.2pc).

The lowest rate was in Hertfordshire and West Essex, with 2.1pc.

Norfolk and Waveney also scored poorly for the number of hospital beds taken up by people with malnutrition.

It was one of seven ICBs recording more than 60 additional 'bed days' per 1,000 population as a result of malnutrition and also had some of the highest rates of malnutrition among cancer patients - one of the groups most at risk.

Eastern Daily Press:


The report suggests the issue is particularly prevalent among older people, those with major conditions such as cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and dementia.

It is also closely associated with higher rates of deprivation.

But experts say Norfolk's position as an outlier may also be linked to other forms of poverty - such as transport and digital poverty.

Eastern Daily Press: Independent city councillor Karen DavisIndependent city councillor Karen Davis (Image: Newsquest)

Karen Davis, an independent councillor in Norwich who previously held a cabinet portfolio at City Hall which included food poverty, said poor transport links in the region was a big factor.

She said: "I think Norfolk is quite unique in the levels of the type of poverty we have.

"If you live in the sticks and do not have a local supermarket, how do you do your shopping?

"Some areas are only served by one bus a day and if you do not have access to a car it would make it incredibly difficult to get what you need - or even afford bus services.

"Big cities may have more impoverished areas, but far better transport links."

Ms Davis added that digital exclusion suffered in the region - particularly in the older community - would also prove a major barrier resulting in malnutrition.

She said: "There are parts of the county with no broadband and many older people aren't online anyway so can't get deliveries.

"If these people don't have a support network of family and friends around them to help with their shopping it creates a perfect storm."


The report focuses mostly on the issue among the elderly and sick, but Norfolk schools are also reporting growing problems.

Jade Hunter, headteacher of West Earlham Infant and Nursery School - in an area with one of the country's highest levels of deprivation - said children were coming in with bowed legs and heart murmurs due to malnourishment.

Eastern Daily Press:

Ms Hunter said: "It is really hard for parents at the minute and it is not just those receiving income benefits - those who ordinarily need support are coming in and telling us they are struggling.

"It is so difficult to see because we know that all of our parents care deeply about their children, but are just struggling.

"They absolutely want the very best for their children but just do not have the money to do so."

She told the Guardian: "We have got two-year-olds coming in to nursery and trying to eat sand because they are hungry.

"It is heartbreaking and not how it should be."

She said the hunger is also impacting on how the youngsters get on in lessons.

The school works with a national charity, Magic Breakfast, to provide all pupils with a free breakfast in the morning, regardless of whether they qualify for free school meals.

Ms Hunter said school staff are having to become increasingly involved in the lives of the families they support - including making doctor's appointments for children and helping families link up with local food banks.

But providing additional support to these families comes at a cost - which schools themselves are struggling to meet.

Ms Hunter added: "We always step up and do everything we can for our families but our budget has not changed - so we have got to worry about our pennies.

"Schools are being asked to do more and more and we are not just educators any more."

Eastern Daily Press:


It is a matter council bosses also say is being given attention, including expanding food hubs across the county.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: "Families in Norfolk and across the country are facing stretched budgets and an increase in the cost and food.

"This can sometimes lead to poorer health outcomes, such as malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies.

"We have a range of support in place that can help people who are in difficulties through our hardship service.

"That can include practical help with food and energy bills or helping them to access essential household items."