Malnutrition And Poverty Surge In 2024


It is 2024 and humankind can launch spaceships to the moon, communicate across the globe in an instant and trust artificial intelligence to diagnose some of our illnesses. Yet despite these amazing achievements, our world and our society in the UK is still held back by a basic lack of nutritious food for some people. Poverty and malnutrition should be confined to the history books but unfortunately, the statistics about these things in the UK make startling reading.  

Poverty And Food Insecurity 

  • The number of children living in food poverty nearly doubled in the year ending 2022 
  • According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), in 2021/22, approximately 4.7 million people (including 12% of children) in the UK lived in food-insecure households meaning they did not have access to sufficient food, or food of an adequate quality, to meet their basic needs 
  • In June 2023, a tracker reported that 9 million adults in the UK (17% of households) experienced moderate or severe food insecurity, a significant increase from 7.3% in June 2021 
  • Nearly a quarter of households with children also face food insecurity 
  • People in relative poverty live in a household with income less than 60% of the contemporary median income 
  • More than 760,000 people used a Trussell Trust food bank for the first time in 2022/23, a 38% increase from 2021/22 

Malnutrition 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines a person as malnourished if they meet any of the following criteria: 

  • BMI (Body Mass Index) less than 18.5 kg/m² 
  • Unintentional weight loss greater than 10% within the past 3–6 months 
  • BMI less than 20 kg/m² and unintentional weight loss greater than 5% in the past 3–6 months 

In the UK, approximately 1.3 million people over the age of 65 suffer from malnutrition, with 93% of them living in the community, and in care homes approximately 35% of residents are at risk of malnutrition. A report in 2020 said that nearly 2,500 children under 16 had been admitted to hospital with malnutrition in the first six months of that year.  

These figures highlight the importance of addressing poverty and malnutrition to improve the well-being of children in the UK.  

The impacts of poverty and malnutrition in children are far reaching. It affects their material, social, educational and emotional well-being on many levels. When children’s basic needs are not catered for, they cannot focus on other things such as learning and education. If this happens in the early years, then children can find it very difficult to catch up with their peers later because there is so much brain and physical development in the first 5 years of life. It also affects their educational achievements and resilience.  

As early years practitioners, we are not expected to be able to solve the social problems of society, but there are ways in which we can help mitigate the impact on the children in our care. These include:   

 

  1. Ensure you offer healthy and nutritious food 
    Ensuring that the food you serve is healthy and nutritious can help children receive at least one good meal a day. Even if you are not providing lunches, you can offer plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables at snack time. The Food for Life website has lots of information about good food and how educational settings can help through campaigns, awards and sharing best practice. Their website contains lots of information about growing and preparing food, nutrition and recipes. For Government information, see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/example-menus-for-early-years-settings-in-england
  2. Educate children and families
    Education is vital if children are to understand the basics of nutrition and how they can feed themselves healthily as adults. Getting involved in various awareness days relating to food, growing food or cooking food is a good place to start and there is something for everyone from Pancake Day to British Pea Week. These days are also a great way to invite parents/carers and families to your setting to raise their awareness of the issues too. For a list of British national food weeks and days, see https://lovebuyingbritish.co.uk/events/national-food-weeks-and-days/. Remember too that nutrition starts with breastfeeding so you can include information and resources about this too. 
  3. Early identification of problems and safeguarding awareness
    Effective early intervention can substantially reduce the impact of poverty on children’s development where the interventions are sufficiently intensive and reach the families in most need. As early years practitioners, we have a duty to safeguard the children in our care and to raise concerns with the relevant children’s services if we are worried. Early help such as using Team Around the Family (TAF) support and parenting help can be initiated if needed. 
  4. Ensure eligible parents/carers receive free school meals and/or other benefits
    England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have different eligibility criteria for free school meals, although all children in state infant schools in England in Reception year, year 1 and year 2 can all receive them. Statistics show that not all children who are eligible for free school meals are accessing them, so more needs to be done to help signpost parents to important information. Direct parents to https://www.gov.uk/apply-free-school-meals to apply or https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/family/free-school-meals/ for more information. Pregnant women and parents on certain benefits with children under 4 may also be eligible for the Healthy Start program which gives eligible people money to buy milk and some fresh fruit/vegetables.
  5. Sign up to Fareshare
    Nurseries can also sign up to the Fareshare scheme which redistributes surplus food to charities and community groups. The scheme helps to prevent food waste and participating nurseries can use the donations to supplement existing food supplies and offer it to families to take home but ensure there is discretion here to avoid embarrassment to families. 
  6. Additional help from the industry for families in crisis
    In a survey undertaken by Early Education, many early years settings reported that they were already going above and beyond their educational remit and offering both practical and financial support to parents in need. You can read the report at https://early-education.org.uk/early-years-sector-provides-crucial-help-to-families-in-poverty/ but some examples included settings who: 
  • Offered additional places and sessions or free holiday clubs 
  • Gave practical support with transport, utilities or allowing parents to use washing machines 
  • Donated clothing 
  • Funded external trips 
  • Set up breakfast and after-hours clubs
  • Obviously, what your setting can do will depend on your own time and resources, but even an increased awareness of the problems among practitioners will help.





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