School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

News

25 Jul 2017

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

Hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children are at risk of malnutrition, ill-health and hunger this summer due to a six-week break from the vital nutrition of free school meals.

What should be a time of enjoyment for Britain’s 4.6 million primary and secondary youngsters, aged between six and 16-years-old, is in many cases a battle against food poverty.

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.

In many cases it is their only source of nutrition.

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

Now, in a bid to combat the negative implications of ‘holiday hunger’ academics from Loughborough University have teamed up with a new charitable project from StreetGames, called Fit and Fed, to help ease the impact of food poverty for families all over the UK.

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

Last summer, in its pilot year, it fed 1,400 children.

Dr Clare Holley, of Loughborough’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, 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 families with inadequate access to good quality food, 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.”

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.”

Fit and Fed is now launching nationwide with an aim to serve at least 250,000 healthy lunches during the 2017 summer holidays.

Dr Emma Haycraft, who also worked on the project, said: “With a lack of funding currently available for projects like Fit and Fed, it is vitally important to raise awareness of the issue of holiday hunger and the profound negative impact it can have on children’s health and wellbeing.

“While the Fit and Fed pilot project made a valuable start with tackling this, group leaders reported a lack of staff, facilities, food and other resources.

“With further funding, the reach of projects like Fit and Fed could be broadened to provide benefit to far greater numbers of children likely to be affected.”

For more information about Fit and Fed visit: streetgames.org

View the press release online here.