The poll of more than 250 youth workers, childminders, teachers, family intervention workers, and paediatricians, asked professionals to give their views on how children’s diet has changed over the last two years.
In total, 85 per cent of professionals said they worked with children who do not get enough to eat; with 33 per cent reporting that going hungry was “an everyday occurrence”, for some of the young people in their care.
A further two-thirds of professionals said they thought hunger was affecting the health of children they work with, while 77 per cent said they believed it was damaging children’s ability to concentrate and learn, and 76 per cent said the children they worked with would be doing better at school if they were getting more to eat.
Almost half of professionals in the survey said they had given a child food in the last two years because they were worried they weren’t getting enough to eat, while a quarter had given a child money to buy food.
Other respondents reported organising food hampers for families, arranging food bank deliveries to school, or taking parents to get emergency credit for electricity or gas cards, so that they could cook food for their children at home.
Meanwhile, the professionals who worked in schools gave their views on types of products found in children’s lunchboxes, as household budgets have got tighter. Almost half said the quality of food had deteriorated over the past two years, with an increase in cheap junk food, chocolate and crisps.
“Some children come in with just a packet of biscuits,” one respondent said. “Some families only give cold cooked rice or cold chips with fish fingers,” said another.
Linda Cregan, chief executive of The Children’s Food Trust, said 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”.
She called on councils to use their new public health responsibilities to fund local initiatives that help children get the nutrition and food they need.
“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,” she said.
“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, or breakfast clubs in schools.”