These results, from the British Association for Parental and Enteral Nutrition (Bapen), found some 25 per cent of patients admitted to hospitals and care homes were at risk from malnutrition. While the news is worrying to society, it presents a plethora of opportunities for industry to step in with supplements and fortification aimed at at-risk groups. Malnutrition can be defined as a deficiency, excess or imbalance of nutrients that causes adverse effects on wellbeing and body function. It mostly affects elderly people and often co-exists with disease. The group collected data from 11,600 patients and found that in hospitals those under 30 years of age had a 27 per cent risk of malnutrition compared with a 34 per cent risk in over 80s. In care homes the group said those under 70 had a 26 per cent risk compared to 32 per cent for those over 80. Bapen chair Professor Marinos Elia said: "This finding establishes - if there was any doubt - that malnutrition is a major public health issue in the community that must be addressed." The group said more can be done to screen patients who come into health care establishments and an individual nutrition care plan provided. Malnutrition Calls to push the issue higher up the European policy making agenda have been made before by the European Nutrition for Health Alliance (ENHA), which has been lobbying for public health action at EU level. The group claims more than 50m Europeans are at risk of the problem. This week the commission signaled it would take the issue seriously. At a forum on nutrition in care homes, Robert Madelin, the Commission's director general for health, said the healthcare cost of malnutrition is similar in magnitude to that of obesity. The Commission has drawn up a white paper outlining its health strategy from 2008 to 2013, with themes which includes "fostering good health in an ageing Europe". Malnutrition is a heavy burden for society as it leads to increased mortality, longer hospital stays, increased complications and decreased quality of life for patients. Recent studies have estimated the cost of malnutrition to the healthcare systems at £7.5 billion in the UK and €9 billion in Germany In response to the growing problem the UK's Department of Health last month announced new measures to address the issue of malnutrition among older people in institutional care so as to appropriately meet their nutritional needs. The first ever Nutrition Action Plan lists a series of steps towards meeting the nutritional needs of older people in hospitals and care homes, which includes raising awareness of the problem, encourage nutritional screening and to strengthen inspections. Eileen Steinbock, vice chair of the British Dietetic Associations' food count group, which focuses on food provision in health care settings, said: "Dieticians welcome the BAPEN Study results and this gives us the evidence of malnutrition and risk of malnutrition in the UK. The important thing now is to use this evidence to ensure all these patients have appropriate nutrition care plans after their screening. "This means, if assessed as able to eat, they should be provided with appetizing food, attractively served, as food is the first choice for nutrition care. Nurses then need to assist with eating and monitoring intake of food. Dieticians have a pivotal role in multidisciplinary teams with doctors, nurse, caters and other health professional to deliver excellent nutritional care."