The number of UK households cutting back on food or missing meals has shot up by more than half in three months, affecting one in seven homes as price rises cut into nutrition for the country’s poorest, according to research by YouGov.

About 7.3mn adults were living in households that were forced to reduce their food purchases in April or had missed meals despite being hungry — a 57 per cent rise from January, research for the Food Foundation, a charity, found.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, said the figures indicated that one in seven households was “food insecure”. “These figures . . . are all the more chilling because the problem is soluble, but far from being solved, it is getting worse,” he said.

Anna Taylor, director of the Food Foundation, said: “The extremely rapid rise in food insecurity since January points to a catastrophic situation for families . . . 

“The situation is rapidly turning from an economic crisis to a health crisis. Food banks cannot possibly solve this. The government needs to realise the boat is sinking for many families.”

The group said it expected further increases in food insecurity as household energy prices and National Insurance increased. It urged the government to alter its policies to prevent further worsening of hunger in the UK.

The research follows a warning from the Bank of England on Thursday that the UK economy would enter recession this year as soaring energy prices pushed inflation above 10 per cent.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has resisted calls to increase welfare benefits in line with inflation, pushing up the payments by 3.1 per cent in April after inflation reached 7 per cent in March.

But the Food Foundation said ministers should reverse that decision, increasing benefits in line with inflation. It should also expand access to free school meals and the Healthy Start programme, which helps pregnant women and mothers of small children on low incomes to buy healthy food and milk, the foundation said.

More than one in 10 households, or 6.8mn adults, had had smaller meals than usual or skipped meals in the past month because they could not afford or access food, the research found.

Almost 5 per cent of households, or 2.4mn adults, had not eaten for a whole day during that time. Food banks have reported an increase in users requesting products that do not need cooking as households struggle with rising energy bills, the foundation said.

The rising cost of living is likely to push households towards “lower-cost foods which tend to be calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, further increasing obesity and other diet-related diseases”, it added.

YouGov surveyed more than 10,000 UK adults in April, and the findings were subsequently analysed by the Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The government said: “We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22bn across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.”

“We’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on universal credit, have boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our household support fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials,” it added.

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