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More than 600,000 youngsters are at risk of ‘holiday hunger’ this Christmas

This Christmas more than 600,000 children are at risk of going hungry.

‌What should be a time of seasonal enjoyment for many youngsters is in fact a battle against food poverty, with families unable to afford basic meals and other necessities.

The reason is ‘holiday hunger’ – a phenomenon caused by the Christmas break and the absence of free school meals which provide the only source of nutrition for hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children across Britain.

As schools prepare to close for two weeks, Loughborough University has teamed up with the charity StreetGames, as part of its Christmas and New Year health and wellbeing campaign - #LboroExperts - to raise awareness of the issue.

Read more about the campaign

It comes as the homeless charity Shelter announced on Wednesday that more than 128,000 children will be homeless on Christmas Day.

Loughborough University’s Dr Clare Holley, an expert in child feeding, said the absence of free dinners is even more important during the holiday season as family budgets are stretched even more than usual.

She said: “Christmas is a particularly expensive time of year for all families, where the financial strain of childcare and gift-giving means many families are having to their make money go even further.

“Many parents are faced with the difficult choice of either heating their homes or feeding their families.

 “What’s more, community provisions which may normally support struggling families are often understaffed or operating reduced service over the festive period, with volunteers caring for their own families and taking a well-deserved break.

“All of this combined with the absence of free school dinners puts a great many children at risk of holiday hunger.”

 

Figures from the Government show there are 667,000 children who attend state-funded schools who rely on the balanced diet they get from free school dinners each day.

Research has shown that children with poor eating habits, who are not consuming a nutritious diet, display poorer cognitive, psychological and physical well-being.

In a bid to combat ‘holiday hunger’ academics from Loughborough have teamed up with StreetGames on an initiative called Fit and Fed, which aims to ease the impact of food poverty for families all over the UK.

The scheme gets kids active in a variety of community events and provides food, with some support from food charities and community food providers.

So far this year, it has delivered more than 80,000 meals to 12,500 participants at 251 sites.

Dr Holley said: “By the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals are estimated to be 1.5 school years behind children with more financially secure backgrounds.

“Moreover, research suggests that six to 11-year-old children from ‘food insufficient’ families score significantly lower on maths tests, and are at an increased risk of mood and anxiety disorders, as well as substance abuse.

“By tackling holiday hunger, we can lessen the nutritional deficit that a significant proportion of UK children fall victim to, as well reducing the associated adverse consequences for the health and wellbeing of these children.

“The Fit and Fed project seeks to feed children experiencing holiday hunger - often due to a lack of free school meals - by providing free meals and snacks at summer sports clubs, predominantly to children living in the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK.”

Loughborough University main entrance sign

The initial success of the scheme has been investigated by Dr Holley and others at Loughborough.

The team conducted focus groups with group leaders who were taking part in the Fit and Fed pilot, to gain an insight into the possible positive outcomes of the Fit and Fed project, as well as the factors which influenced the success of the project.

“We found that children who participated in the project had improved nutritional knowledge, a broader diet, and ate more fruits and vegetables,” said Dr Holley.

“They also showed improvements in mood, concentration and behaviour, and were able to take part in shared mealtimes and team sports – both of which have known benefits.

“The importance of this experience should not be underestimated, with previous research asserting that shared mealtimes are associated with children having a reduced risk of substance abuse, improved language development, higher academic achievement, and reduced risk for paediatric obesity.”

Between April 2016 and March 2017, the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, which included 436,938 food parcels to children, and the service has seen a 13% increase in demand compared to last year.

“This suggests that this issue is growing,” said Dr Holley. “Which means effective solutions must be developed.”

Loughborough University’s Christmas and New Year health and wellbeing campaign is aimed at using the knowledge and experience of academics and professionals to give advice about physical and mental wellness over the festive season and into next year.

Follow the latest content by searching for the #LboroExperts hashtag on Twitter, or on our Facebook page, Snapchat account and YouTube channel.

ENDS

 

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 17/170

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via www.globelynx.com

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world to study sports-related subjects in the 2017 QS World University Rankings and top in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 6th in the Guardian University League Table 2018, 7th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 10th in The UK Complete University Guide 2018. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

 

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