Four million UK school children start the day hungry, Arla reveals

Posted: 1 November 2023 | | No comments yet

An Arla report has uncovered that the UK could have a shortfall of nearly half a million doctors and nurses by 2043 if child hunger is not addressed.

child plate

With the cost-of-living crisis having been making an impact on families across the country, an Arla report has now revealed that four million children may go to school with an empty stomach in the UK, something it says puts them at a disadvantage in learning and achieving their goals.

Labelling this the “Empty Tummy Disadvantage”, Arla has also predicted that children lacking nutritional breakfasts could have a significant impact on their motivation at school, subsequently putting their career ambitions at risk.

In fact, Arla has claimed that the ‘Empty Tummy Disadvantage’ could lead to an estimated shortage of 455,000 missing doctor and nurses, 413,000 veterinarians and 331,000 police officers by 2043 if child hunger is not addressed.

“On an empty stomach, our body produces a specific hormone called Ghrelin, where high levels have been linked to shorter levels of attention span. For children, this feeling of hunger can provide a shift from longer term concentration in school to distracted and less tolerant behaviour. This could have potential implications on a child’s ability to focus, therefore providing a barrier to learning and reaching their true potential,” said Dr Simon Moore, a Behavioural Science Expert.

The report noted that, by the age of eleven, 77 percent of children have already decided what they want to be when they grow up, with most of their dreams – including becoming a doctor or nurse (11 percent), professional athlete (12 percent), vet (10 percent), teacher (seven percent) or scientist (six percent) – careers which require top grades to achieve.

However, the highest grades can be out of reach for children experiencing daily hunger, which can significantly impact their concentration, behaviour and ability to learn.

Lucy Norman, Primary School Teacher at Campsbourne Primary School, shared how being hungry at school can take its toll on children’s’ learning capabilities: “The sad reality of being a teacher is seeing children starting at a disadvantage because they’re hungry, which immediately impacts their ability to learn.

“I have unfortunately seen firsthand the impact of the empty tummy disadvantage. Children that are hungry are often less able to concentrate and keep engaged in lessons, which has knock-on effects on their learning development. Free breakfast clubs help close the gap and give all kids a fair chance to succeed, so the more we can do to make them widely available across the UK, the better.”

What’s more, Arla’s ‘Empty Tummy Disadvantage’ report also found that 84 percent of parents notice changes in their child’s behaviour when hungry, including becoming more irritable (44 percent) and less able to concentrate (16 percent).

Suggesting a way to support children facing hunger when at school the UK, Arla has highlighted the positive impact free breakfast clubs can have on childhood nutrition. However, according to the sample of parents surveyed by Arla, fewer than one in five (18 percent) parents could access a free breakfast club at school, with others needing to pay to use the service (50 percent), unsure what was on offer (13 percent) or saying there was no breakfast club in their school (19 percent). 

Data shows that only 13 percent of parents sent their child to breakfast club every school day, despite an estimated quarter of children experiencing food insecurity.

All primary school children in London to receive free school meals

Hoping to make a positive impact on the next generations’ concentration in learning environments, Arla has teamed up with the charity Magic Breakfast to help ensure that no child in the UK is too hungry to learn. In the last three years, the dairy cooperative has- reportedly provided Arla Cravendale milk for more than 8.5 million bowls of Magic Breakfast morning cereal. As part of the partnership, they’re calling on the nation to learn more about the issues surrounding morning hunger to help re-write the future for the next generation and ensure every child facing food insecurity has access to a free breakfast.

“No child should have to attend school on an empty stomach; however, we know this is sadly the reality for many children in the UK. At Arla, we believe in closing the hunger gap and the importance of ensuring healthy and nutritious dairy is available to all.  Together with Magic Breakfast we are raising awareness of the Empty Tummy Disadvantage and encouraging as many people as possible to add their voices in #BackingBreakfast,” explained Catriona Mantle, Head of Milk at Arla.

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