22 Dec Holiday Hunger – How It Affects Children
For many children across the UK, the 13 weeks of school holidays every year don’t signal the start of a care-free, happy time as they should do because they face going without nutritionally balanced meals due to the financial strain that they time off school puts on their parents and guardians. This food insecurity felt by low-income families doesn’t only bring stress though, as teachers have reported school pupils returning to school malnourished after the holidays. This malnourishment then takes effect in the classroom, with it estimated that children from low-income areas can fall behind their more affluent peers by weeks or even months. Summer learning loss is therefore seen to be one of the main factors in the attainment gap for education between the poorest and richest school pupils.
It is estimated in the UK that the families of nearly 4 million children find it too expensive to buy enough fruit, vegetables and healthy foods to provide their children with nutritionally balanced meals. This then causes children from low-income families to be more likely to have diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and obesity due to the simple fact that they can’t afford to eat healthily. It has also been found by The Food Foundation that the UK government’s Eatwell Guide is unaffordable to almost 50% of households in the UK, particularly affecting single-parent families.
Holiday hunger not only affects diet and education though, as the mental health of children who are not getting enough to eat is also affected, with children becoming more anxious and isolated from their peers during the holidays due to financial strain. Teachers across the country have warned that holiday hunger is worsening with more and more pupils across primary and secondary schools not getting access to balanced healthy meals especially when the only balanced meal they would usually receive is their free school meal during term time, making holidays even more difficult for those already struggling.
In 2017, Children In Scotland contributed to the government’s ‘Hungry Holidays’ report, citing that ‘Going to school hungry and struggling through the long school holidays not only impacts children’s happiness and wellbeing, it severely limits their mental and physical development with long-lasting and wide-ranging consequences. They are most likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes, obesity and to have a healthy life expectancy of 23 years less than their most affluent counterparts (Source: The Scottish Government (2015) Long-Term Monitoring of Health Inequalities)’.