Zoe Griffiths, Freelance Registered Nutritionist (Public Health), ZG Nutrition
No child should be going hungry but with the growing problem of child food insecurity, that is exactly what is happening across the country. COVID-19 has led to a sharp rise in child food insecurity. Research by the Food Foundation found that 14% of parents or guardians experienced food insecurity between March and August this year with 4 million people living in these households including 2.3 million children.
Feeding Britain and Independent Food Network have said that their members are providing food support to a new influx of middle-income families. These families have been plunged into food insecurity due to the impact of COVID-19. In April, The Trussell Trust found that there was an 89% increase in the number of emergency food parcels given out compared with the same month in 2019. This included a 107% increase in the number of parcels given to children, compared to the same period last year.
All children have the right to nutritious food that is affordable. The current pandemic has led to a further increase in those experiencing food insecurity against a backdrop of rising rates of overweight and obesity in children. As a Registered Nutritionist I know that eating a poor diet in childhood can increase the risk of developing diseases in later life such as obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers. Eating a nutritious diet is also important for concentration, behaviour and mood. Getting children to start eating well when they are young will help them to develop good eating habits which they can maintain as an adult.
The Sustain alliance is calling on the Government to take action in five areas in the Comprehensive Spending Review in November 2020. These five areas are:
1. Maintain and extend the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to drive investment in children’s healthy food
2. Give more children a Healthy Start
3. Expand the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme to all primary school children
4. Expand eligibility for Free School Meals
5. Expand Holiday Activity and Food Programmes across the whole of England
I have seen first-hand the impact of the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme on children and schools. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme provides a piece of fruit or vegetable for 2.3 million children aged 4-7 years every school day. If the scheme was extended to all primary-aged children, then 4.7 million children would benefit from access to fruit and vegetables every school day. The scheme gives children a chance to try new fruit and vegetables in a safe and happy environment and it also gives every child equal access to fruit and vegetables. Some teaching staff also give any extra fruit and vegetables to those children that they know are at most risk of going hungry at home.
The Government will be announcing their spending plans for next year on 25 November. Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, want all MPs to have Free School Meals and other food support for children on the top of their agenda. They have a new campaign of current e-action to MPs. They are asking for everyone’s help to influence Rishi Sunak’s current spending review, which he will present on Wednesday 25 November. Could you help by writing to your MP? Sustain are asking you to write to your MP to support children’s access to healthy food. You can find out more details about this campaign and how to contact your MP here https://www.sustainweb.org/news/oct20-invest-in-childrens-health-mps/
1. Food Foundation (2020) MP Briefing: Protecting Vulnerable Children’s Diets. Available at: https://foodfoundation.org.uk/new-food-foundation-data-sept-2020/
2. Feed Britain Better Coalition (2020) Feed Britain Better! Putting the health of ALL young people at the heart of COVID recovery. Available at: https://biteback2030.com/real-story/feed-britain-better-report
3. The Guardian (2020) Growing numbers of ‘newly hungry’ forced to use UK food banks. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/nov/01/growing-numbers-newly-hungry-forced-use-uk-food-banks-covid
4. The Trussell Trust (2020) Lockdown, lifelines and the long haul ahead: The impact of Covid-19 on food banks in the Trussell Trust network. Available at: https://www.trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/09/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-food-banks-report.pdf
5. SACN (2011) The influence of maternal, fetal and child nutrition on the development of chronic disease in later life. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/339325/SACN_Early_Life_Nutrition_Report.pdf
6. British Dietetic Association (2020) Diet, behaviour and learning in children: Food Fact Sheet. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/diet-behaviour-and-learningchildren.html