160,000 Children in Wales too poor for a healthy diet, study finds

Findings strengthen calls for a national measurement of food insecurity and the need for further investigation into children’s access to healthy food in the UK

New analysis “Affordability of the Eatwell Guide”  from independent think tank The Food Foundation finds that around 3.7 million children in the UK are part of families who earn less than £15,860 and would have to spend 42% of their after-housing income on food to meet the costs of the Government’s nutrition guidelines, making a healthy diet most likely unaffordable. In Wales, families earning less than £15,860 would have to spend 36% of their after-housing income on food to afford the Eatwell Guide, affecting 160,000 children.

Comparing the estimated cost of the Public Health England Eatwell Guide (PHE’s official guidance on what constitutes a healthy diet and which is based on the latest scientific evidence) to household income in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales shows that the poorest half of households would need to spend nearly 30% of their after-housing income on food to eat the Government’s recommended diet, compared with 12% for the richest half of households.

This analysis comes as children in Wales return to school after a long eight to nine weeks break amid growing concerns over holiday hunger. The availability of free school meals during term-time will be a relief for parents who struggled to feed their children over the holidays.

The Food Foundation’s food affordability research comes as the Children’s Future Food Inquiry is gathering evidence from those who have witnessed or experienced children’s food insecurity in the UK. With an estimated 3.7 million children in the UK living in households that likely cannot afford a healthy diet and record levels of childhood obesity, the parliamentary inquiry is joining calls for a national measurement for food insecurity and next year will present recommendations to policy makers in all regions of the UK including specific recommendations for Wales for understanding and tackling children’s food insecurity.

Katie Palmer, from Food Cardiff, said:

“Widening inequality is leading to higher rates of childhood obesity in deprived areas of Wales with 15% of children in reception being obese compared to 9% in the richest communities. The importance of these findings in considering eligibility criteria for free school meals in Wales and in the forthcoming obesity strategy is, therefore, clear. There is also opportunity in the ongoing consultation around Brexit and our land use in Wales to seriously consider our requirements for production of healthy diets that will be accessible to all.”

Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee said:

“It has always been a great concern to me that so many children and families in the UK are at risk of going hungry, or going without a healthy meal each day. That is why I have campaigned for many years to change this, and why I am proud to Chair the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee, which is looking into this incredibly important issue.

“It cannot be right that 50% 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.

“I hope that the Government will look into this issue as a matter of urgency, in order to make eating a healthy diet more affordable.”

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said:

“The Government’s measurement of household income highlights the fact that millions of families in the UK cannot afford to eat in line with the Government’s own dietary guidance. It’s crucial that a coordinated cross-government effort develops policy that accounts for the cost of its recommended diet, and creates a food system that does not consign those on lower incomes to the risk of diet-related illness.”

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