The Irish Mail on Sunday

One in five children admitted to hospital are malnourish­ed


ONE in five children admitted to hospital in Ireland and Britain were malnourish­ed on arrival, according to a shocking new study due to be published this summer.

Of the number surveyed, 4% were found to be in a state of chronic malnutriti­on.

The survey, which studied 1,000 children at 27 hospitals across both islands, found that 21% of all children admitted were in some way malnourish­ed.

While the study, carried out by Dr Aoife Carey for the University of Ulster, focused on

‘You’d be worried in the long term’

children who were ill, the author said the figures were an indicator of what is happening in the wider community.

With 1.2 million children under the age of 18 in Ireland, a finding of 4% in the category of ‘chronic’ malnourish­ment means that up to 48,000 children could be facing longterm effects from chronic malnutriti­on, including delayed growth and finding learning difficult.

The researcher­s warned the true figure could be higher as hospitals don’t routinely measure children’s height – that is, measuring a child’s height and weight together to see if they are developing normally.

‘We would consider anything over 2% to be higher than normal. It is a worrying figure considerin­g it is not being measured in all children.

‘The 4% are the ones who have, long term, been extremely underweigh­t, and it’s affected their height growth. From a social point of view, it has a lot of impact, and for overall developmen­t you would be worried in the long term.’

Dr Carey said: ‘Obesity is the most concerning aspect for childhood growth but, certainly within a paediatric hospital population, under-nutrition remains an underlying issue.’

Four years ago National University of Ireland, Galway, found that one in five children in Ireland went to bed or came to school hungry.

Dr Carey’s study looked at how hospitals can identify malnourish­ed children, rather than assessing the extent of the problem in each child, so figures for how many children were identified as acute or chronic were not compiled.

But, she added: ‘We did look at stunting, which is long-term, and that would affect their height. When you put it all together approximat­ely 21% are showing signs of malnutriti­on. That is quite high.’

Children or adults who are under-nourished – who fail to get enough energy, protein and nutrients from their diet – are likely to go to the GP more often and stay longer in hospital if admitted with other conditions according to the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI). It is treated by chang-

‘They don’t know how to feed a child’

ing a child’s diet, and can involve the use of supplement­s.

The study’s findings reflect what dietitians with the INDI say they are witnessing in their clinics. They say that poverty is to blame in some instances – but warn that families from all income groups make poor food choices.

Margaret O’Neill is a member of INDI and works as a community dietitian with the HSE in Dublin. She said: ‘We are seeing faltering growth in the clinics. Malnutriti­on is invisible, which is our concern. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the impact.’

The HSE funds free cookery classes through the ‘Healthy Food for All’ programme, tackling the rising reliance on fast food. The six-week courses cover everything from how to make fruit smoothies to tips on baking your own brown bread.

Ms O’Neill said: ‘You find people who have never cooked, who have existed on takeaways, and now they are feeding a child, and don’t know what to do about it.’

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