Hunger, mental health issues, and susceptibility to chronic illnesses are just some of the consequences of an insufficient dietby Regina Keith / October 26, 2020 / Leave a comment
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on household food security in the UK. Five million families have encountered food insecurity, and 200,000 children are missing meals every day.
Despite a campaign led by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, the UK government has voted against extending free school meals to children during the autumn half-term holiday and future holidays until Easter 2021. Rashford is now leading a concerted effort from councils, charities and businesses to provide free meals over the school holiday.
“Holiday hunger”—when children go without the food normally provided to families during school term time—is an increasingly recognised issue. If children are not given the nutrition they need, there are long-term effects on their health.
Mental health as well as physical health
In the short term, children who are living in food-insecure families are more likely to suffer from education losses. Research from the US showed that after the summer holidays, children had lost an average of one month’s worth of skills learned at school, and that poorer children may fare worst.
When children do not have enough to eat, they are less likely to achieve their developmental goals on time, or to achieve their potential at school.
Children experiencing food insecurity are more likely to suffer from anxiety and stress, and hunger in childhood has been linked to depression and suicidal episodes in teenagers. Hunger is also linked to increased levels of chronic illnesses such as asthma.
Children require essential nutrients from food, such as zinc, iron, selenium, protein and iodine, to support their brain growth. The supply of these nutrients affects the functioning adult the child will become.
Another vital nutrient is vitamin D, found in foods such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolks. Vitamin D is essential for bone growth in children, and it is linked to enhanced protection against illnesses by reducing inflammation and promoting immune function. Research has also shown that vitamin D may protect against respiratory illnesses. In the UK, it has been estimated that 16% of children do not have enough vitamin D.
Poor nutrition has an impact across generations. Mothers who are lacking in iron are more likely to have children…