New evidence of child food insecurity in the UK
Being food secure means being sure of your ability to secure enough food of sufficient quality and quantity, to allow you to stay healthy and participate in society.
Food insecurity has varying degrees of severity. Early stages involve worry about whether there will be enough food, followed by compromising quality, variety and quantity of food. Going without food and experiencing hunger are most severe stages (see figure 1)
In 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched the Voices of the Hungry (VoH) project to monitor food insecurity worldwide. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have subsequently used nationally-representative data from the first two years of this survey to develop the first global estimates of food insecurity among households with children under age 15.
Worldwide (152 countries and territories), 41% of children under age 15 live with a respondent who is moderately or severely food insecure, 19% live with a respondent who is severely food insecure.In the UK, 19% of children under age 15 live with a respondent who is moderately or severely food insecure, 10% live with a respondent who is severely food insecure. (exact figure 10.4% (confidence intervals 7.53% – 13.28%)
By either of these measures the UK is one of, if not the, worst performing nations in the European Union. (See Figures 2 and 3).
In a supplementary report, UNICEF combined this data concerning the UK’s performance on food insecurity with data on rates of childhood overweight & obesity (11–15 years). This produces a metric examining how well the country is end[ing] hunger, achieve[ing] food security and improv[ing] nutrition: one of the key global Sustainable Development Goals that UN member states – including the UK – have committed to achieving by 2030. According to this indicator, the UK is the 8th worst performing of 41 more economically developed nations.
The relationship between food insecurity and monetary poverty is complex, and the former appears to be more prevalent, requiring specific policy attention. UNICEF’s report indicates that share of UK children under the age of 15 living in a food insecure household is twice the UK’s under-18 poverty rate.
Globally, food insecurity rates are on average higher among households with children under the age of 15 compared to households without children.
Data from the first year of the VoH project indicate that 10.1% of people aged 15 or over in the UK are moderately or severely food insecure, with 4.5% being severely food insecure
A separate survey, conducted for the Food Standards Agency using a more detailed survey tool, recently found that 8% of all adults in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are food insecure; and a further 13% of adults only marginally food secure
UNICEF report that, globally, Children who are exposed to food insecurity are more likely to face adverse health outcomes and developmental risk… Food hardship among children also predicts impaired academic performance, and is positively associated with experiencing shame at being out of food, and behavioural problems.
This report adds to a growing international evidence base regarding childhood food insecurity. However, UNICEF identify that a critical next step will be to determine… how food insecurity reports differ between children’s self-reports and that of guardians and caregivers, whether or not children are insulated from household food insecurity, and how these dynamics may differ by age and sex, across different contexts.
This could be achieved through child-focussed research projects exploring children and young people’s experiences of household food insecurity. The Food Foundation is working with a coalition of researchers and campaigners to start work on a child-centred food insecurity inquiry in the UK.
Food Foundation comment:
A UNICEF report says that 10% of children in the UK are living with severe food insecurity. For these children the consequences are devastating and often permanent. We live in a rich country and the government has ignored this for too long. Three actions must be taken:
- Track food insecurity comprehensively and regularly.
- Support an independent inquiry into childhood food insecurity which hears directly from children.
- Develop a menu of policy measures to tackle the problem: food provision in school holidays, increasing uptake and value of Healthy Start, not cutting Universal infant free school meals, factoring the cost of a healthy diet in benefit system, and more.
The Food Foundation is working alongside many other organisations as part of the End Hunger UK coalition, urging politicians and government to take the issue of hunger in the UK seriously and to tackle the root causes of food insecurity.
For more information or comment, please contact:
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Data, unless otherwise indicated, should be attributed to: Pereira, A.L., Handa, S. and Holmqvist, G. Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Children Across the Globe, Innocenti Working Paper 2017-09, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence