Words: Rothery Sullivan (She/Her)
Oxford Languages describes the term ‘food insecurity’ as ‘the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.’ With the UK’s current financial crisis, this term describes many working-class households in Glasgow. Studies have shown that food insecurity has long-term effects on brain development and behaviour, specifically in late juvenile and early adolescent periods. It has even been shown that childhood food insecurity is linked to learning difficulties later on in life. With the cost-of-living-crisis having a detrimental effect on many people’s ability to provide food for their family, it’s important to consider how food insecurity will affect development and how it could affect university students, too.
Since the cost-of-living-crisis has hit, more and more families are in need of resources, putting a strain on places such as food pantries. These past few months, food pantries have seen people who had previously not needed food support reaching out for help, some even on their way to work. People’s current wages are simply not providing enough to feed their families. To make things worse, Glasgow food banks are receiving less donations as people’s budgets are stretched thin. Ryan McGeady, from the Drumchapel Food Bank, noted that, ‘With the rising cost of living, it seems that the middle class, who usually donate to us, have been unable to.’ McGeady also stated that the Drumchapel Food Bank has had to reduce the size of the packages they are able to give to families due to the increased demand. There’s a greater demand but a lessening supply, and not many resources for Glasgow families to turn to.
In Scotland, there are many food programs for kids; for example, students in P1 through P5 are offered free lunch no matter their family’s circumstances, with Nicola Sturgeon further committing to making meals free for kids up to P7. However, many such programmes are not accessible year round, especially during school breaks. In fact, in 2001 around 2.5 million children lived in UK households that experienced food insecurity. Millions of children will suffer negative physical and mental effects from a lack of food, which could bring them more difficulties later in life, too.
Mentally, food insecurity creates a lot of stress in the household; children will notice their parents eating less to save more food, and will share their parents’ anxieties about what to do when the food runs out. Additionally, the stigmatisation around food insecurity will cause kids to feel isolated in their home situation; they won’t feel comfortable (or even able) to talk about the stress or hunger they are experiencing. This stress will negatively affect children’s social lives, academic performance and potentially their overall view of the world.
The physical consequences of food insecurity are no better. Food poverty can affect children in many ways, such as leading to obesity due to a diet reliant on low-nutrient, cheap foods. On the other hand, a lack of food altogether could lead to children experiencing hunger. Food insecurity can also increase a child’s risk of chronic illnesses like asthma and anaemia, and behavioural problems like anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.
These effects will extend into adulthood. Linda Wilbrecht, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, notes that, ‘irregular access to food in the late juvenile and early adolescent period affects learning, decision-making, and dopamine neurons in adulthood.’ Those who experience food poverty from a young age are more likely to struggle with adapting to new changes and finding solutions when their lives change. Moreover, epidemiological studies have linked adolescent food insecurity to learning difficulties, especially with subjects such as maths, reading, and vocabulary. Having a stable supply of nutritional food is critical to child development, yet it is something that is currently threatened due to the state of the UK economy.
There is a serious issue ahead of us this winter: many children will experience food insecurity, which will have a lifetime negative impact on them. What will be done to prevent it? Sadly, likely nothing.