The head of health calls for free school meals for all to end “disturbing” food poverty

The government must offer all children free school meals to address the country’s “deeply disturbing” food poverty rates, says the NHS senior pediatrician.

Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, warned that the cost of living crisis is forcing struggling families to turn to unhealthy food and called on the government to take action.

He said it was often cheaper for parents to feed their children junk food, as food prices continue to rise and this impacts children’s health, from low growth rates to obesity.

He wants the government to increase support by giving all children, not just those from low-income families, free school meals.

In an exclusive interview with The independent, he said: “There is something deeply disturbing about the image of a starving child struggling during the school day. The reality of modern Britain is that feeding their children a healthy diet is a challenge and we only expect it to become more and more of a problem as this cost of living crisis continues. “

“The government should fund free school meals for all children to remove the current stigma of free school meals. Providing a healthy meal at school is an important opportunity to promote the health of every child in the UK ”.

Have you been affected by the rising cost of food? email rebecca.thomas@independent.co.uk

His calls come in like The independent launched a campaign calling for free school meals for all children whose families have received universal credit.

According to Action on Child Poverty, 800,000 children living in poverty are not entitled to free school meals. This figure includes households who receive universal credit but whose income is over £ 7,400 per year, not including benefits.

This threshold applies regardless of family size or living conditions, which means that although these families live in poverty, they are not considered poor enough to qualify for school meals.

Dr. Kingdon supported requests for free school meals for those benefiting from universal credit, but said the government should go further and offer them to everyone.

Research published last week by Impact on Urban Health suggested that expanding free school meals to all children could boost the economy by £ 41 billion, with more future earnings and savings from related healthcare costs.

Camilla Kingdon, president, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says parents were also skipping meals to feed their children

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Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, says parents also skipped meals to feed their children

(RCPCH)

In 2020, more than 2,000 pediatricians sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking for vouchers for free meals during the school holidays in the wake of the first wave of Covid.

Asked what pediatricians are seeing in relation to the cost of living, Dr Kingdon said, “The cost of food has risen dramatically. Parents have no choice but to buy cheaper, lower quality and less nutritious food for their children. It is cheaper to put chicken nuggets and chips on a plate than to buy fruit and vegetables. These parents are doing their best under impossible circumstances.

“Pediatricians see the impact of poor nutrition with both the poor growth of disadvantaged infants and children on the one hand, and with the increase in childhood obesity on the other. We are seeing an impact on parents as well. It is not uncommon to see parents skipping meals to feed their children or pay their bills. It’s heartbreaking ”.

In November last year, data published by NHS Digital revealed that childhood obesity rates in 2020-21 had increased by 4.5%, with 14% of children aged four to five now obese.

Public health data shows that the proportion of children in low-income households increased by 15% over the same period.

Dr. Kingdon cautioned, “Children with iron deficiency anemia are just the beginning. We will begin to see children who are less resilient, more prone to get sick than a child with access to nutritious food.

“How can we expect a hungry child to engage in education and learn to the best of their abilities? It is not fair to ask them this. And, of course, there are behavioral problems associated with being hungry … The teachers are already telling us about it. Many teachers even pay to feed students out of their own pockets. It is a terrible situation.

The Department of Education was contacted for comment.

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