Malnutrition may have contributed to the deaths of nearly 50,000 patients each year in NHS hospitals, according to a study commissioned by government ministers.
The figure is substantially higher than numbers reported previously. Ministers said last May that 239 patients had died because of malnutrition in hospitals in England in 2007.
However the report by the Nutrition Action Plan Delivery Board said it believed these statistics could be very misleading, according to the Independent.
The report concluded that healthy eating should not just be about promoting weight loss.
The authors said: "We know malnutrition predisposes to disease, it delays recovery from illness and it increases mortality. It follows that the effect of malnutrition on mortality rates is substantially greater than the number reported to have died because of malnutrition."
The Nutrition Action Plan Delivery Board is urging the government to promote the concept of a "healthy weight" to help guard against malnutrition as well as obesity.
The charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged Michelle Mitchell said they launched a campaign three years ago to demand government action.
She told the BBC: "We know one million older people in the community are malnourished, yet there is still no evidence of any real progress on this problem."
Conservative shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien described the figures from the report, which was delivered to ministers last August but published only yesterday, as "horrific" and accused the government of "dragging their feet" on the issue.
But Care Service Minister Phil Hope said the Conservatives had failed to properly describe complex statistics and were presenting totally inaccurate figures.
Strategy to tackle care home malnutrition >> By Janie Stamford
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