Europe’s €170 billion malnutrition bill is ‘more than double’ the cost of obesity

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Malnutrition is still a major problem in Europe, with the costs relating to undernourishment in Europe are more than double those associated with obesity, according to a new dossier from the Medical Nutrition International Industry (MNI).

The MNI dossier, launched at the annual congress of the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) in Barcelona, reveals that the costs associated with malnutrition in Europe amount to a ‘staggering’ €170 billion every year – more than double the amount spent on obesity – yet the major focus remains on fighting fat and not poor nutrition.

“The fight against malnutrition is largely a battle that need not exist,”​ said Jörg Griesel, chairman of the MNI.

The dossier ‘Oral Nutritional Supplements (ONS) to Tackle Malnutrition’ contains a collation of the latest data, including key facts and insights relating to malnutrition’s causes, prevalence, and consequences.

“There are screening models in place and ONS available which are a proven way to tackle malnutrition, but these are not always used,”​ said Griesel. “Evidence shows that, even when identified as malnourished, up to 50% of patients aren’t given any kind of nutritional intervention.”

The dossier (found in full here​ and in summary form here​) highlights the importance of screening for malnutrition in hospitals, the community and in care homes, in addition to offering ideas of appropriate nutritional interventions that could cut costs for healthcare systems across Europe.


The report claims that as many as 33 million Europeans are at risk of malnutrition – claiming that as the area faces economic upheaval, “never has it been more important to address the strain of malnutrition on healthcare budgets.”

Malnutrition is most commonly found in association with disease and can affect all age groups in hospitals, care homes and in the community.

For example, the dossier reports as many as 1 in 3 older adults living independently are at risk of becoming malnourished. This can set in motion a vicious circle of events, including: increased hospitalisation, further loss of muscle strength, increased falls and subsequent fractures.

But through regular nutritional screening, and appropriate nutritional interventions such as additional supplementation, the prevalence of malnutrition could be reduced, says the MNI report.

“Much of the public’s attention is focused on reducing obesity, but in some people, getting them to consume an appropriate quantity of nutrient dense food is not possible.  Subsequently their condition becomes worse and their complications are increased,”​ said Professor Alessandro Laviano, chairman of the Educational and Clinical Practice Committee of ESPEN.

“Malnutrition is not seen as a priority in patients; their underlying pathologies take priority. We need to realise that without proper nutrition, malnutrition will lead to increased complications and longer recovery times amongst patients. 

“In every other walk of life, the emphasis is placed on losing weight, but here it is our intention to get patients to maintain or increase their weight.  This is not always a popular intervention,”​ said Laviano.

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