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Four million British kids are at risk of malnutrition because of poverty

The Food Foundation reported that one in five families would have to spend over 40 per cent of their income after housing costs to meet government nutrition guidelines

Almost four million UK children are at risk of malnutrition as their families are too poor to afford healthy food, according to national thinktank The Food Foundation.

The organisation this week reported that one in five families would have to spend over 40 per cent of their income after housing costs on food in order to meet the government’s nutritional guidelines. Proportionally, this is four times what the richest 20 per cent of families would need to spend.

The Food Foundation claims it found 3.7 million children were found coming families earning less than £15,860, and therefore unable to afford a healthy diet as defined by the government. The report also said that half of UK households do not spend enough to abide by these guidelines. The study noted concerns surrounding “holiday hunger”, with parents struggling to feed their children an extra meal a day during the school summer break. It said that growing rates of child obesity in deprived areas are indicative of the unaffordability of healthy foods.

The Eatwell Guide is a policy tool used by the government to advise on nutrition and achieving a balanced diet. It recommends five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, two servings of “sustainably sourced” fish per week and plenty of beans and pulses. The suggested daily calorie intake is 2,000 for women and 2,500 women leaving poorer families with two options: eat more cheap, unhealthy food, or eat less in general.

Mother-of-four Elaine, from Thanet, estimated that as a family hers has between £50-60 per week to spend on food, and that balancing the budget is often a struggle. “I really try and my kids eat well,” she said, “but what we are eating is not how I would really like them to eat”. Her husband had to quit work due to poor health and all of their children receive free school meals, but she is concerned that returning to work herself could affect that.

The Children’s Future Food Inquiry is gathering evidence of children’s food insecurity in the UK as it gears up to present recommendations to policy makers for tackling childhood food insecurity and its consequences. It has backed calls for a national measurement for food poverty to be developed. Chair of the Inquiry committee, Sharon Hodgson MP, said: “It cannot be right that 50 per cent of households in the UK currently have insufficient food budgets to meet the Government’s recommended Eatwell Guide. A healthy diet, which we know is important for our health and development, should not be unaffordable to so many people.”

The study, which found a 15 per cent increase in child obesity in deprived areas compared to their wealthier counterparts, drew on data from across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Big Issue spoke to Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council. He said that half of all food bought by UK families is now “ultra-processed”, adding: “It’s shameful that there are so many people in the UK that can’t afford to eat, and crucially that can’t afford to eat healthily.

“The drive for cheap, highly processed food has had disastrous consequences for many millions of people, particularly low-income households. What is being created is a two-tier food system with those that can afford good food and those that cannot. Rather than seeking a cheap food fix, we should instead ask how we can support everyone to able to shape a fair food system. Much more needs to be done to turn the tide on the exponential rise of unhealthy food and to incentivise diets that are healthy for our bodies and for the planet. The government needs to help people get into decent work, ensure workers are paid a real living wage and provide a proper safety net.”

Image: Cheshire East Council/Flickr