Frontline health and education professionals are regularly seeing children who have not had enough to eat, often on a daily basis.
A survey by the Children’s Food Trust found that 85 per cent of professionals report working with children who do not get enough food. A third said this was an everyday occurrence.
The research involved youth workers, teachers, health professionals and family intervention workers.
Two-thirds said hunger was affecting children’s health, 77 per cent said it had an impact on their ability to concentrate and learn, while a similar number said hunger was stopping children from doing well at school.
Of the 250 respondents, 42 per cent said they had fed children in the last two years because they were worried about them, while 24 per cent had given a child money to buy food. Of the school-based respondents, half said they had spotted lower quality food in children’s lunchboxes, including cheaper junk food, less fruit and cold rice or chips.
The professionals said that better cooking education for both parents and children could help, as well as free breakfasts for school children and support for free meals during the school holidays.
The charity’s chief executive-designate, Linda Cregan, said: “The message here is that too many people who work with children are having to go above and beyond the call of duty to try to protect children from the effects of hunger and poor diet. Of course it is a parent’s responsibility to make sure their child eats well, but as this and other surveys have shown, the reality is that this can be an enormous struggle.
“Whether we like it or not, people working in these jobs are at the frontline of helping parents on this, so they need the right support. As local authorities develop their public health plans, ringfencing funding to support children’s nutrition would be a good starting point.
“This could be used in all sorts of ways – training on cooking skills for local organisations working with families, subsidising good school food, breakfast clubs in schools or grub clubs for the holidays – but making that explicit commitment is vital.”
The survey comes in the run-up to the charity’s Children’s Food Conference on March 19. Visit www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk