Thousands of children have been treated for malnutrition in Scottish hospitals, figures show, promoting concern amid soaring food prices.

Glasgow, where a third of children are estimated to be living in poverty, has seen the highest rates over the past four years.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said there had been 3895 admissions of children under the age of 18 to an acute site for malnutrition from 2018 to 2022.

Figures show numbers soared in 2021, the year after the pandemic broke out, almost doubling from 572 to 1000.

The health board said individual patients may account for more than one hospital admission.

Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.

Under-nutrition can result in low weight-for-height (wasting), a low height-for-age (stunting), or a child being underweight.

Children who are overweight or obese may also be at risk due to poor diet while illness can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

NHS Lothian said all children admitted to hospital  are screened for signs of malnutrition and a score of two or more indicates “significant nutritional risk”.

According to health board figures 928 children were red flagged for dietary support from January 2018 to June of this year. 

NHS Tayside said 186 referrals had been made to paediatric dieticians for "faltering growth" in Dundee, Perth and Kinross over the past three and a half years.

It beggars belief that malnutrition is a reality for a single child in contemporary Scotland

The figures, which were obtained using freedom of information legislation, do not include GP data, where most children at risk of malnutrition would be treated.

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Dr Lynsay Crawford, who spent more than 20 years working as a GP in Possilpark, one of Glasgow's poorest areas, said the true figures were likely to be far higher.

She said: "Malnutrition could be caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use/absorb the food you do eat because of an underlying medical condition.

"The figures point to hospital admissions only which may just be the more extreme tip of the iceberg. 

"It would require whoever treated these kids to code them as malnourished on their records and that might not have happened.

""The majority of kids with poor nutrition would be treated in primary care."

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John Dickie, Director of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) Scotland, said the figures were of concern given soaring food prices.

He said: “No child in 21st century Scotland should be suffering from malnutrition.

"We know that parents go to extraordinary lengths to protect their children from poverty, often going without meals themselves to feed their children.

"It’s vital that government at every level ensures that no family is left without the resources they need to give their children a healthy diet.”

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Professor John McKendrick, co-director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) at Glasgow Caledonian University added:

"It beggars belief that malnutrition is a reality for a single child in contemporary Scotland, let alone hundreds. 

"The evidence of malnutrition reinforces the importance of food provided in schools to wider efforts to tackle food poverty in Scotland."

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It comes as supermarkets are being urged to boost budget ranges as new figures show consumers are paying a record £571 more on average for their groceries than last year.

Grocery price inflation hit 12.4% during the past month, up from last month’s previous record of 11.6%, research firm Kantar reported.

The latest figure means that the average annual grocery bill will increase from £4,610 to £5,181 if consumers do not change the products they buy and how they shop to cut costs.

Categories like milk, butter and dog food are rising particularly quickly, at 31%, 25% and 29% respectively.

Last month a mother of two told how she had been hospitalised for malnutrition twice because she was eating only one meal a day to ensure she could feed her children.

READ MORE: Warning of 'shattering' impact of cost-of-living crisis on poorest families 

Kelly Thomson, 43, from Slough in Berkshire, said rising food prices had made it near impossible for her to feed herself as well as her own children.

In Lanarkshire 155 children had the condition recorded on their hospital discharge letter, from January 2018 to March 2022.

The towns of Motherwell and Airdrie recorded the highest numbers..

Neil Gray SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts said: "There has been significant investment by local and national government to address child poverty.

"The Scottish Government's Child Payment, which is only available here, has been doubled to £20 per week and will soon rise again to £25 as it is further rolled out. 

"Until we get the full powers of independence, we will continue to see Tory policies that increase poverty while we want to do all we can to see the end of child poverty."

NHS Forth Valley said released the figures could lead to children being identified while Grampian also recorded very small numbers.

Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Western Isles said no children had been treated for malnutrition while Ayrshire and Arran and Fife did not provide data.