Thousands of pupils underweight, figures warn

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger has highlighted official figures which showed thousands of pupils in England started school underweight in 2015.

The group warned: “For a minority of children, the school lunchtime represents the only chance each day to eat something substantial.”

In a report, it urged the government to use some of the money from the new sugar tax to extend free school meals for poor children into the holidays. It also called upon officials to make greater efforts to ensure poor families take up their entitlement to vouchers for free milk, fruit and vegetables.

The study cited data from the National Child Measurement Programme for England which revealed 6,367 children started reception class underweight, a 16 per cent increase on 2012 figures and 7,663 children started their final year of primary school underweight and up 15 per cent since 2012.

The MPs 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.”

According to Frank Field, the group’s chairman: “Something very troubling is happening and there are at least two forces operating, Something very troubling is happening and there are at least two forces operating. 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?"

Responding to the report’s findings, the government maintained it strived to ‘eliminate child poverty and improve life chances for all’.

A spokeswoman said: “In the last Budget, we announced £10m of funding per year to expand breakfast clubs in schools up and down the country and have vowed to continue free school meals for more than 1.3 million children.”

"We agree with the all-party group that nobody should go hungry, especially when surplus food goes to waste. We will therefore carefully consider the recommendations made in this report."

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