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Scale of food poverty in children revealed

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The British Nutrition Foundation has highlighted the devastating effects of food poverty in Britain.

The organisation says that children are unfairly facing the effects of diet inequality as the cost-of-living crisis sweeps the UK, and youngsters living on the breadline are suffering due to chronic food inequality, according to scientific evidence presented at a recent British Nutrition Foundation conference.

Delegates heard case studies of youngsters who shared the hardship of trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle when their parents are forced to choose between heating and eating. Variables such as too much access to cheap food outlets and not enough access to free school meals play a major role in contributing to diet inequality, which was the topic of the conference.

Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director at the Centre for Food Policy at the University of London, described the issue as “critical and topical”, during her opening speech.

The latest Government data shows there are more than four million children living in poverty across the UK as a result of austerity, the pandemic and now the ongoing and spiralling cost of living crisis. Insufficient access to nutritious food is a key part of defining poverty or food insecurity, with children being some of the worst affected.

A study conducted by Professor Julie Brannen and Professor Rebecca O’Connell found that half of parents living in low-income households sheltered their children from food insecurity by limiting their own food intake or skipping meals. While three quarters of mums said they bought or prepared meals that were ‘filling rather than nutritious’, by bulking out meals
with cost-effective carbohydrates like pasta or rice. However, the  dependency on high sugar, high fat, convenient food only exacerbates the problem of diet inequality, with young people and children not developing tastes for ‘good or nutritious’ foods, it was heard.

The effects of living hand to mouth stretch beyond its health implications, with the social ramifications rarely spoken about. Professor Hawkes, the host of the British Nutrition Foundation Annual Day, added: “Food is about so much more than nutrition. It is hugely symbolic and plays a major role in people’s lives.”

During the conference, members also heard several calls to action for major supermarkets to take responsibility for the role they can play in helping to reduce food inequality. Sara Stanner, Science Director at the British Nutrition Foundation, commented: “We recognise the need for all children to have access to healthier food in schools, alongside provision of good food and nutrition education, which we support through our Food-a fact of life education programme.”

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