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Food & Hunger

Nearly 4 Million Children in the UK Are 'Too Poor' to Have a Healthy Diet


Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN's Global Goals call for an end to hunger around the world, but that means universal access to safe and nutritious food. Nevertheless, the Food Foundation's new study has revealed that there are millions of children in the UK whose families can't afford to give them food that will keep them healthy, according to government guidelines. You can join us by taking action here to help end hunger, in Britain and around the world. 

We all know how important it is to eat healthily. Whether that means counting out your five-a-day — or is that 10 now? — or cutting out red meat, recommendations abound about how to have a better diet. 

But recommendations can only go so far. 

A groundbreaking new report investigating food poverty in Britain has revealed that families across the country are struggling to afford food that meets the government’s nutrition guidance. 

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In fact, according to the independent think-tank the Food Foundation, some 3.7 million children in the UK are living in households that can’t provide enough fruit, vegetables, fish, pulses, and other healthy foods. 

The government’s Eatwell Guide outlines the diet that meets people’s nutrition needs. 

It includes things like eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day; choosing wholegrain or higher-fibre carbohydrates, with less added fat, salt, and sugar; eating more beans and pulses, and two portions of sustainably sourced fish a week; eating less red and processed meat, and choosing lower fat and lower sugar dairy options. 

But, according to the foundation’s study, families that earn less than £15,860 a year would have to spend 42% of their after-housing income on food in order to achieve that. 

And 27% of households would need to spend more than a quarter of their after-housing income. 

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“Most adults and children in the UK do not currently meet requirements for a nutritious diet, eating too much sugar, saturated fat and salt, and failing to meet recommendations for fruit and vegetable and oily fish consumption,” read the report. “This is particularly true for lower income households, who consume significantly less fruit and vegetables than those on a higher income.” 

While not knowing how to cook healthily, and lack of access to shops selling fresh produce are problems too, not having enough money is the main reason that most people eat unhealthily. 

“Most people know what to do for a healthy diet, but they don’t do it because the healthy options are not the cheap options,” a spokesperson told the Guardian

The problem is putting children from lower-income households at risk of diet-related illnesses, like obesity and diabetes. 

The Food Foundation highlighted higher rates of childhood obesity in deprived areas of the country. Over a quarter (26%) of year-6 children in the most deprived areas of England are obese, compared to just 11% in England’s richest communities. 

And, according to the foundation’s report, the gap is growing. 

“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,” said Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation. 

“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 doesn’t consign those on lower incomes to the risk of diet-related illness,” she added. 

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According to the Guardian, this study is the first investigation into the extent to which households in Britain can afford to follow guidelines on healthy eating.

It got its results from comparing the already-calculated cost of the Eatwell Guide with household incomes in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. 

And it showed that the poorest 50% of households in Britain would need to spend nearly 30% of their after-housing income on food to meet the recommendations. That’s compared to the richest half of households, which would, on average, spend 12% of their incomes. 

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“It cannot be right that 50% of households in the UK currently have insufficient food budgets to meet the government’s recommended Eatwell Guide,” said Sharon Hodgson MP, chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee. 

“A healthy diet, which we know is important for our health and development, should not be unaffordable to so many people,” she added. 

The report highlighted the need to make sure that the incomes and resources of low-income households are sufficient for buying the food that makes up a healthy diet — as well as the need to take measures to support these households in affording the food. 

Currently, the Children’s Future Food Inquiry is gathering evidence from people who have witnessed or experienced children’s food insecurity in the UK. 

The parliamentary inquiry is reportedly joining calls for a national measurement for food insecurity, and next year it will present recommendations to policy makers in order to better understand and tackle food insecurity for children in Britain.