Almost a million (955,464) older people in the UK confess to relying on ready meals and convenience foods to keep them fed with nearly a quarter (23%) saying they skip their daily meals at least three times a week.

The research, commissioned by Royal Voluntary Service and Yakult to highlight the importance of the charity’s lunch clubs, identified loneliness as often the root cause of these eating habits.

Over one in five over 70s (22%) stated they ate all their daily meals alone each week, rising to over a quarter (26%) of people over 80. Of those who eat most of their meals alone, 38% admit they miss having company at meal times.

The study also found over one fifth (21%) cook less than four meals a week from scratch, with 17% saying they miss having someone to cook for (rising to 24% of females) and 8% saying they lost their desire to cook when their partner died.

The research was released alongside a new film starring TV presenter Rachel Riley, who visits a Royal Voluntary Society lunch club in Rickmansworth to meet volunteers and witness first-hand how these clubs are providing older people with a chance to eat a nutritious, hot meal in the company of others.

Eating alone can have a negative impact on people’s health with 41% of over 70s admitting they only sometimes follow a healthy diet. Additionally, one in twenty (5%) often forget to eat, and the equivalent of 390,000 older people (5%) rely on cold foods such as sandwiches to keep them going.

"Older people are often by themselves and it can be difficult to motivate yourself to make a nice hot meal. Loneliness is one of the worst things in terms of mental health and general wellbeing, so getting people together and having somewhere you can look forward to going to each week is fantastic. The volunteers themselves get a lot out of it too because they get to know the people who come in every week."

TV presenter and charity supporter Rachel Riley

"I wouldn’t leave the house if it wasn’t for the lunch club. I’m blind, so getting out and about is really difficult but the Royal Voluntary Service volunteers provide a 5 star service - they take me to and from the club where I can enjoy delicious food and wonderful company. I would be so lonely without it."

Kay Francis (95) who has attended a lunch club for over two years

"Our lunch club volunteers are just one shining example of how people can gift their time to support their local communities. For more than 80 years, Royal Voluntary Service has been mobilising volunteers to meet the big needs of the day, and as our research shows, one of the most pressing is helping people age better - specifically supporting them to eat more healthily and to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of eating with others."

"Now, more than ever, we need the public to step forward and make the difference. We are very excited to be working with Yakult and Rachel Riley to highlight the difference our volunteers make, and hope to inspire more people to take action. Whether it’s helping to run a lunch club, or one of our many other social groups, or providing companionship to an older person in their home or delivering books through our Home Library Service, our volunteers make a tangible difference to those they support and enable them to lead happier and healthier lives."

Rebecca Kennelly, Director of Volunteering, Royal Voluntary Service

"The #MakeADifference campaign is a great opportunity to get involved and support older people within your local community. Since the start of Yakult, we have encouraged our employees globally to be part of their communities starting with our Yakult Ladies in Japan, who provide an import societal role interacting with customers and visiting more than 44,000 older people living alone. For people thinking about volunteering, many studies demonstrate that volunteering can also have a positive effect on your individual well-being, so it’s an amazing gift for yourself and the people around you."

Hiroaki Yoshimura, Managing Director of Yakult UK and Ireland

For further information

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