Community dietitians at Swindon's Great Western Hospital are raising awareness of the problem of undernutrition with an ongoing campaign to encourage people at risk to recognise the signs.

Undernutrition is very common in the UK and affects more than three million people.

The elderly population are most at risk, mainly those aged over 65. Undernourishment costs the NHS in excess of £7.3 billion per year in the UK, compared to obesity costing the NHS £4.8 billion a year.

Undernutrition is a particular problem out in the community and community dietitians at GWH are working to tackle the problem by raising the profile of the condition, providing first line dietary advice and signposting appropriate support available.

As part of their campaign on Thursday November 14 they will be holding an awareness day at Eldene Health Centre in Collingsmead, Swindon; there will also be food advice and sampling sessions with Oakhouse Foods.

Natalie Kominek, lead community nutrition support dietitian at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Being underweight or undernourished is often overlooked in the UK, however it is a very common problem.

"The elderly are the most at risk group, and with disease, chronic illness and social circumstances such as decreased independence, they can be put at a greater risk.

"Someone who is underweight or undernourished may be deficient in vitamins and minerals as well as energy and protein, leaving them vulnerable to weight loss, increased ill health, tiredness, depression, and increased hospital admissions.

"Our aim is to raise awareness of undernutrition by targeting those in the wider community and encouraging them to recognise the signs in themselves or a friend or relative and take action.”

Typical signs of undernutrition include:

• Weight loss

• Clothes or shoes (shirt collars, waist bands) which are loose

• Thin arms and/or legs

• Jewellery, dentures or glasses are loose

• Dizzy spells

• Always feeling the cold and finding it hard to keep warm

• Frequent colds and/or infections.

Ms Kominek added: “If you think that you or someone you know is losing weight, there are simple and easy steps which can be taken to help. Although eating a balanced diet is important for health, it may be necessary to adjust your meal patterns and the types of food eaten for a temporary period of time to help prevent further weight loss or undernourishment.

"This can be things such as having small, frequent meals followed with puddings, consider using some ready prepared meals (frozen or freshly delivered) if food preparation is difficult, or having nourishing snacks and milky drinks between meals.

"People can also add high calorie foods such as mayonnaise or cream to their normal diet to increase the amount of protein and calories consumed without increasing the volume of food to be eaten.”

The awareness day at Eldene Health Centre is taking place from 11am-2pm on November 14, all are welcome to attend and there is no need to book.

More information about undernutrition and useful dietary information and advice is available on GWH’s website , just search for Dietetics in the A-Z search.

If someone continues to lose weight then they need to discuss this with their GP as soon as possible.