Children eating less fruit and veg during lockdown

11 June 2020

A new study has found that around half of children who received FSM vouchers are eating significantly less fruit and veg since schools closed in March.

The study was conducted by Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab, one of the UK’s leading research centres looking into children's food and holiday hunger. The team is led by Professor Greta Defeyter, who sits alongside SFM on the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food.

When it was apparent that schools would be closing for all but the most vulnerable pupils and children of key workers due to the Covid-19 crisis, researchers were keen to investigate what children entitled to free school meals would be eating during this period of shutdown.

The researchers at the Healthy Living Lab worked with nearly 60 nine-to-twelve-year-olds across London and the North East of England. The children completed specially designed questionnaires on their eating, sleeping and physical activity across six days - three consecutive days before the lockdown commenced, and and three consecutive days during the closure. 

The findings make for grim reading:

  • Prior to the lockdown children ate, on average, just over one portion of fruit per day. During the lockdown reporting period, almost half (45%) of children said they hadn’t eaten any fruit; with the remaining children eating only half a portion of fruit per day, on average.

  • The mean vegetable intake dropped from just over two portions per day when children were attending school, to an average of half a portion per day at home. This includes more than half (55%) of the children reporting they had not eaten any fresh vegetables during the three days reporting in lockdown.

  • Consumption of unhealthy snacks increased from an average of one over the three days when they were at school to six portions across three days at home during lockdown; along with a four-fold increase in the amount of sugar-sweetened drinks consumed.

  • When asked if they had skipped any meals, approximately 25% said they had skipped at least one meal a day prior to schools closing – usually their breakfast – and this increased to 35% following lockdown.

The report concludes that opening schools over the summer holidays is not preferable, not least because teachers are already exhausted and stressed, which would only increase if they are asked to work through the summer holidays. Instead, it recommends:

  • increasing the funding for the DfE’s holiday activities and food programme,

  • an extended schools programme to commence at the start of the new academic year,

  • combined with an increase in funding to existing programmes (e.g. the National School Breakfast Programme, school meal provision).

The full report is available here.

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