Worrying number of pupils starting school underweight

By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor

A shocking number of children in England began school underweight in the previous year according to figures reported MPs.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger said the increasing numbers of children do not get the right amount to eat. The group said: “For a minority of children, the school lunchtime represents the only chance each day to eat something substantial.”

To deal with this worry rise, the group asked that income from the new sugar tax should be reinvested into free school meals for poor children into the school holidays.

Even though the government has vowed to an “all-out war” on food poverty, the report requested the government should make more effort to ensure poorer families take up their vouchers for free fruit, vegetables and milk.

In an era when childhood obesity was thought to be the health issue for young people the group said: “In an age of rampant child obesity there has been a shock increase in the number of children starting their first and final years of school who are underweight.”

Date gathered by the National Child Measurement Programme for England last year showed:

6,367 children started reception class underweight – up 16% on 2012 figures

7,663 children started their final year of primary school underweight – up 15% since 2012

Other data suggested that over half a million under-fives in 2011 were anaemic, the worst figures for twenty years.

The report studied a section of pupils in Birkenhead and they found that over a firth of pupils arrived at school hungry, some even mentioned they suffered with “persistent hunger.”

It was only a small study, and isn’t clear enough to prove a national trend, but the evidence they gathered did show that: “too many children have hunger as their most constant companion”.

In “maybe most” of these families, parents do not have sufficient income properly to feed their children, say the MPs. However they also said that in some of the cases the childhood hunger issue was down to bad parenting and was “part of a bigger picture of neglect.”

Frank Field, the group’s chairman said: “One is the breakdown in parenting and the second is an increase in the numbers on a low income.

“It’s a tragedy if one of these strikes a child, but it’s an unbounded horror if a child is hit by both. How can the world’s fifth richest nation not know the extent of physical damage caused to its own children by a lack of food?”

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