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Poverty blamed for return of rickets and gout to UK

A "toxic combination" of poor wage growth and higher food prices has led to the return of Victorian-era diseases to the U.K., according to an industry body for the health sector.

The U.K.'s Faculty of Public Health (FPH), which represents doctors and public health workers in the country, has linked food poverty with the rise in diseases such as rickets and gout – which were more commonplace during the 19th century.

"It's getting worse because people can't afford good quality food," John Middleton, from the FPH, told the U.K.'s Observer newspaper over the weekend.

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"Malnutrition, rickets and other manifestations of extreme poor diet are becoming apparent. (Practitioners) are reporting rickets anecdotally in Manchester, the East End of London, Birmingham and the West Midlands. It is a condition we believed should have died out."

Poverty levels in the U.K. have become a hot political topic since the global financial crisis. Wages in the country have been consistently been below the rate of inflation since 2008, which means that people have been taking home less in real terms. Critics of the current Conservative-led coalition government have also highlighted the rise in food banks in the U.K. Government officials have hit back at these claims, stating that the issues surrounding them have been "hopelessly politicized."

Middleton's comments come at a time when the FPH is drawing up its mandate, set to be released next month, which will call on the U.K. government to do something about these problems before next year's general election. A spokesperson for the industry body told CNBC that the plans would include the idea of having a national food policy in the U.K. and is also likely to call for a tax on sugar in foods.

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circa 1877: Impoverished people in front of a rag shop in Lambeth, London.
John Thomson | Getty Images

The most common cause of rickets is a lack of vitamin D and calcium and affects bone development in children. The disease causes bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to deformities. Gout, meanwhile, is a type of arthritis which the U.K.'s health service states can be caused by obesity and a diet rich in chemical compounds called purines, which are found in foods like sardines and liver.

Back in May, the FPH wrote an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an independent working group to monitor nutrition and hunger in the U.K. It also said that there was a worrying gap in health circumstances and outcomes between rich and poor people in the U.K., adding that many hardworking families in the country were are living in poverty and do not have enough income for a decent diet.

The Department for Heath wasn't immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

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Middleton's comments on rickets refers to anecdotal evidence but there are statistics that back up the belief that there is a rise in malnutrition related illnesses. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), part of the government's Department of Health, published new data back in July that showed a 19 percent increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition over the last year. During the period between May 2013 and April 2014, the HSCIC said there had been an increase in overall admissions where malnutrition was a "primary or secondary diagnosis", from 5,590 to 6,690.

It also stated that over the last five years there was a 71 per cent increase in hospital admissions where malnutrition was a primary or secondary diagnosis.