Money Wellness
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category iconcost of living
calendar icon12 Jul 2023

Victorian diseases surge due to cost-of-living crisis

People cutting back on high-quality food because of the cost-of-living crisis could be causing a rise in diseases such as scurvy and rickets.

Data from NHS Digital has shown that diseases usually associated with the Victorian era were responsible for almost 10,000 hospitalisations in the UK last year. Until now these illnesses have largely been confined to the history books thanks to varied, nutrient-rich diets and modern medicine.

But now, as well as a rise in Victorian diseases, the cost-of-living crisis has also seen an increase in official cases of malnutrition. This suggests people are struggling to stay healthy because they can’t afford quality food.


Scurvy is a disease that’s caused by a deficiency in vitamin C. It’s rare in the developed world and  largely associated with pirates and sailors, who develop the illness while going without citrus fruits while at sea for long periods of time.

The disease is treatable with fresh fruit and vegetables, but can prove fatal if not dealt with.

Symptoms of scurvy include:

  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • irritability
  • low mood
  • severe joint pain
  • swollen and bleeding gums
  • skin that bruises easily


Rickets affects bone development in children. It causes bone pain, poor growth, and soft, weak bones that can lead to bone deformities. Adults can experience a similar condition known as osteomalacia or soft bones.

A lack of vitamin D or calcium is the most common cause of rickets. Vitamin D largely comes from exposing the skin to sunlight, but it can also be found in foods such as oily fish and eggs.


Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that’s extremely contagious. It can be a frightening illness causing heart problems, breathing difficulties and sometimes even death.

Thankfully, diphtheria is still relatively rare in the UK, with babies and children having been routinely vaccinated against it for the past 80 years. Anyone who’s not inoculated though is still susceptible to the illness, which can cause ulcers on the skin if antibiotics aren’t used quickly enough.


Often referred to as TB, tuberculous is a bacterial infection which is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs and sneezes of someone who’s infected.

It’s a serious condition but can be cured with the right antibiotics. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • breathlessness that gradually gets worse
  • lack of appetite and weight loss
  • a persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and often brings phlegm, which may contain blood
  • night sweats
  • a high temperature

Healthy Start free vitamins

Women can get free vitamins through the Healthy Start scheme while they’re pregnant and up to their baby’s first birthday. Children are also entitled to free Healthy Start vitamin drops from the age of 4 weeks until they’re four.

It’s worth noting though that babies who are having 500ml of formula a day do not need Healthy Start vitamins.

Where do I get my free Healthy Start vitamins?

Your primary care trust, health board, or health trust is responsible for distributing the free Healthy Start vitamins. Ask your midwife or health visitor for more information.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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