The beginning of the global pandemic saw school closures across the globe with hopes that in the near future we would return to normality and children could get back in the classroom, along with Lunch Halls and Canteens. This leads to the question how has this affected British children’s diets?
As events have unfolded throughout the past year, school re-openings did not go to plan and the new year saw further closures. Due to these measures, children have not been able to receive free school meals that the education system provides.
Throughout the pandemic, free school meals have been a highly contested issue and in October, the UK saw Boris Johnson choose not to extend free school meals during holiday periods. UNICEF Office of Research states that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 39 billion in-school meals have been missed globally due to closures.
Not only are children currently missing out on vital education, they are also losing out on a reliable daily meal. For many, this may be the only meal they eat that day and thus, the effects of school closures on children’s diets cannot be ignored.
Reliance on food banks has drastically increased in recent times
Many more families have faced food poverty since the beginning of the global pandemic due to higher unemployment rates, scarcity of food supplies and the reduced support from institutions such as schools. Reliance on food banks has drastically increased in recent times, with many families relying on charitable donations and welfare projects for meals.
The difficulty of maintaining a balanced diet when relying on food banks is hard to ignore. Whilst there is an effort to include fruits & vegetables in parcels, this cannot always be promised. These parcels are not necessarily designed to be lived off for long periods of time.
Without school meals, food parcels may simply not be enough to sustain a child for heathy growth and development. Children with food intolerances may also not be able to access the correct products for their dietary requirements, leading to negative side effects on their health.
Many fear that COVID-19 has exacerbated nutritional issues that are associated with food security. BMJ writes that such problems include “obesity, undernourishment, nutrient deficiencies, and mental health problems such as anxiety, low self-worth, and depression.”
This statement is supported by data published on 29 July by the UK’s National Food Strategy Report which indicated that children consumed more snacks and junk food, but less fruits and vegetables during lockdown – and that this effect was amplified amongst children from lower income households.
Children may be left to create their own meals, especially lunches, without proper knowledge of nutrition
With parents having to balance work and childcare, children may be left to create their own meals, especially lunches. Without proper knowledge of nutrition and being left to their own devices, meals often consist of junk food or are poorly balanced.
There may also be an increase in the use of convenience meals by parents who have been overwhelmed during these difficult times. These convenience meals are often pre-made, pre-packaged meals that lack fresh fruit and vegetables, contain additives such as salt and may even lack sufficient calories for a meal.
The UK Collaborative on Development Research argues that for many children, scheduled school lunches are the “only guaranteed source of healthy meals, including important micronutrients such as zinc and iron.” The lack of timetabled, scheduled routines may also cause eating times to be disrupted for children.
Calorie deficits that do not aid children’s growth and development, nor would this benefit their performance in school or their mental health
For those who do not wake up until late morning, breakfast often falls onto the backburner to be forgotten, with lunch being their first meal of the day. This may create calorie deficits that do not aid children’s growth and development, nor would this benefit their performance in school or their mental health.
Alternatively, this may lead to all-day snacking on processed junk foods. Alongside the scheduled mealtimes being lost, timetabled slots for exercise have also vanished. Without in-person P.E. classes and time on the playground, many children are not receiving the correct amount of exercise to stay healthy.
Children across the globe may be temporarily or even permanently damaged
Fears related to these effects of school closures are that the mental and physical health of children across the globe may be temporarily or even permanently damaged. Fitness levels of children and teens has undoubtedly been impacted as exercise has become considerably limited since lockdown began.
Concerns over rising obesity levels or malnutrition within children have become more apparent and have been a point of discussion for many in recent times. A significant change in diet and the loss of stable nutritional meals also has detrimental effects on mental health.
A diet which lacks vitamins and minerals decreases concentration levels within children which may have negative impacts on the work produced in school; this can have lasting impacts if a child is sitting exams in the near future.
There are still many ways that we can help those in need
You may ask yourself: what can I do to help? Well, whilst the amount we can assist our fellow neighbour may be limited due to social distancing, there are still many ways that we can help those in need. When you next go to the supermarket, try to avoid stock piling food. When people hoard certain items, it makes them harder to obtain for those in need and can result in wide-scale food shortages.
Alternatively, food banks are always looking for donations which can be easily done at your local supermarket, otherwise you can drop off parcels at your local food bank. To find a food bank near you please follow the supplied link to The Trussell Trust, a well-known food bank NGO.
Alternatively, you can donate cash by setting up direct debits or making one-off donations on most food bank websites. There are also great volunteer programs for you to get involved in including Foodprint, a student-led social supermarket and food redistribution network. in Nottingham.
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