The Food Foundation has said families are facing a "catastrophic situation".
A food policy charity has warned urgent action is required to prevent further escalation of Britain’s food crisis as new data showed a rapid 57 per cent jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food or missing meals altogether in just three months.
Research, released on Monday by The Food Foundation, warned that 12.8 per cent of households, the equivalent to 6.8million adults, have had smaller meals than usual or skipped meals in the past month because they couldn't afford or get access to food.
A further 8.8 per cent of households (4.6m adults) have not eaten despite being hungry because they couldn't afford or get access to food, while 4.6 per cent of households (2.4m adults) have not eaten for a whole day because they couldn't afford or get access to food.
In April, 7.3 million adults lived in households that said they had gone without food or could not physically get it in the past month, which includes 2.6 million children - compared with 4.7 million adults in January.
The Food Foundation is urging the Government to take urgent action to prevent further escalation, including increasing benefit levels in line with inflation and expanding access to Free School Meals and the Healthy Start programme.
Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation, said: “The extremely rapid rise in food insecurity since January points to a catastrophic situation for families.
“Food insecurity puts families under extreme mental stress and forces people to survive on the cheapest calories which lead to health problems. The situation is rapidly turning from an economic crisis to a health crisis.
“Food banks cannot possibly be expected to solve this. The government needs to realise the boat is sinking for many families and it needs to be fixed. Bailing out with emergency food parcels is not going to work.”
As the cost of living crisis bites deeper and families struggle to afford energy bills, food banks are reporting that users are increasingly requesting products that do not need cooking.
Further increases in food insecurity are predicted over the coming months as the full impact of the increase in National Insurance and the Energy Bill cap at the start of April is felt.
The increasing cost of living and rising food prices are likely to mean that people become more reliant on lower cost foods which tend to be calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, further increasing obesity and other diet-related diseases.
The figures presented from the survey have been analysed independently by The Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Prof Sir Michael Marmot, University College London, said: “Food is basic, but so is security. Both are vital to good health. If 1 household in 7 is food insecure, society is failing in a fundamental way. These figures on food insecurity are all the more chilling because the problem is solvable, but far from being solved it is getting worse.”
Genevieve Hadida, research assistant in food systems, health and sustainability at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: “Not being able to eat regularly or healthily has a devastating impact on health.
“We were shocked to see that rates of food insecurity have risen to rates similar to the very start of lockdown two years ago, particularly in those households with children.
“Rising food prices and reduced disposable income are resulting in an unsustainable lifestyle with many children not having access to a healthy or affordable diet – this cannot continue.
“Immediate action and close monitoring are required to prevent the most vulnerable families from falling through the cracks.”