Food for Thought: UK Teenagers Losing Learning Time Due to Hunger

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27 Jun 2017 --- Teenage pupils in high school can lose around 51 minutes’ worth of vital learning time a day because their concentration levels dip due to hunger. This is according to the results of a survey conducted in the UK by Kellogg’s. The survey results show that 82 percent of teachers in Britain have seen teens arriving at school hungry every day. And nearly four in 10 teachers believed one reason children in their class were hungry was due to their parents being unable to afford food for breakfast.

Nearly half of the 500 UK secondary teachers’ surveyed claimed kids aged 11 to 16 do not understand why they need breakfast to help them learn. In addition, teachers with hungry teenagers in the classroom were often left dealing with kids unable to concentrate (73 percent), an increase in misbehavior (28 percent) or grumpiness from class members (34 percent) in the mornings.

More than one in 10 teachers believed this could have a long-term impact on children’s GCSE results, with 20 percent believing one child’s hunger could disrupt the learning of others in the class.

Click to EnlargeBreakfast Clubs
A further study by Kellogg’s found nearly half of the 1,000 children surveyed had attended a breakfast club in primary school, but only a fifth go to a morning school club to get something to eat before class at high school.

School breakfast clubs ensure children get something to eat before starting the school day so they can perform at their best. The clubs were set up in 2014 as part of the School Food Plan, following studies that showed that "not eating breakfast is associated with a range of negative consequences for children," including poorer health, adverse educational and social effects, and lower levels of energy and attentiveness. 

In a report on breakfast clubs in schools with high levels of deprivation, published by the UK Department of Education in March, schools were found to be “very supportive of breakfast clubs and presented them as contributing to various positive outcomes for pupils.” 

Although schools did not generally perceive any impact of breakfast clubs on overall school attendance figures, they did report “improvements in concentration and in behavior from pupils attending breakfast clubs. They attributed this, in part, to children not being hungry and also to the new routine of the breakfast club allowing pupils to settle into school more calmly and being more ready to learn when lessons started.”

The head of research at The Children’s Food Trust, Jo Nicholas comments, “Secondary education sees our young people maturing into adulthood, going through stressful exams and often choosing a life career path. All these things are hard to do when you are hungry, and teens are often the forgotten age group when it comes to hunger.”

“The survey results would indicate that a breakfast club for young people in secondary education, particularly those who need it most, would still be a wise investment,” Nicholas says.“Like all other school food provision, breakfasts need to be healthy as what children eat now determines their future health.”

The research also revealed that around one in 10 children feels too ashamed to eat in front of their friends, potentially putting them off attending a breakfast club before school.

“Kellogg’s has been supporting breakfast clubs in schools for 19 years providing funding, cereal donations and training to a network of 3,000 Breakfast Clubs across the UK,” says Dave Lawlor, UK Managing Director for Kellogg’s. “We would encourage our stakeholders to look at ways we can increase breakfast club support to help boost the provision from primary school to secondary school.”

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