Healthy diets “increasingly unaffordable” for 220,000 of Scotland’s children, says new research

05 September 2018

A picture of an upturned fork that illustrates hunger.

220,000 children in Scotland now live in households where a healthy diet is increasingly unaffordable, according to research published today by the Food Foundation and funded by the Commissioner.

It found that families in the lowest earning 20% of households would need to spend 39% of their post-housing income on average to meet guidance in the Eatwell Guide — which helps define the UK Government’s recommendations on eating healthily and achieving a balanced diet.

This reconfirms that food insecurity is a serious issue for children in Scotland, where they don’t have regular access to the affordable and nutritious food they need to thrive.

Graphic illustration of food costs for families in Scotland.

Child poverty: A significant human rights issue in Scotland

Today’s findings, which come from independent think tank The Food Foundation, highlight that child poverty is a significant and growing human rights issue in Scotland.

Commenting on the figures, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland Bruce Adamson drew attention to how food insecurity impacts on the health and development of children, and how its scale still not known or well understood.

The Commissioner said:

“Food is a human rights issue. Children have the right to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Experiencing food insecurity as a child impacts negatively on physical health, mental health, and developmental outcomes and is a violation of their rights.
These figures from the Food Foundation illustrate the impossible task facing many Scottish families. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is already concerned that Scotland does not have accurate data on the scale of food insecurity, and we are seeing the effects of this right now across Scotland as we know children are going hungry, yet we still do not know the full extent of the problem.
Child poverty needs to be recognised as a significant children’s rights issue in Scotland and a sustained, systematic and human rights based approach at both national and local levels is needed to tackle and eradicate it.”

Image illustrating child obesity by income group in Scotland.

Hunger and obesity: Two impacts of food insecurity

Food insecurity can impact children in more than one way.

It can mean that they go hungry through not having enough food, as is increasingly an issue for children in Scotland over the summer. Children returning to school after the holidays can be a relief for parents who struggled to feed them while they didn’t have access to free school meals.

But food insecurity can also cause obesity due to the unaffordability of healthy and nutritious food. Today’s research shows widening inequality is leading to higher rates of childhood obesity in deprived areas of Scotland, with 16% of children between 2 and 15 being obese compared to 12% of in the richest areas.

What needs to be done

At a Scottish level

The Scottish Government needs to do more to tackle food security.

We were disappointed that yesterday’s Programme for Government made no mention of previous commitments around a Good Food Nation Bill and for the right to food to be incorporated into Scots law.

And we’d hoped to see a measurement for food poverty introduced in a similar vein to that of fuel poverty, as food insecurity is now being measured through the Scottish Health Survey.

At a UK level

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has raised concerns that the whole UK lacks adequate data around food insecurity, and today’s findings show the need for more investigation into children’s access to healthy food.

It’s something the Children's Future Food Inquiry is currently looking into, gathering evidence from people who’ve witnessed or experienced children’s food insecurity in the UK.

The UK Parliamentary Inquiry, which our office is involved in, has joined calls for a national measurement for food insecurity. As well as this, next year it will present recommendations to policy makers across the UK around understanding and tackling children’s food insecurity— including specific recommendations for Scotland.

Share your evidence around food insecurity

If you’ve got experiences of children’s food insecurity, then the Future Food Inquiry would like to hear from you.

You can visit their website to tell them your thoughts and views.