Disadvantaged children are missing out on meals in childcare, study finds

Researchers at the University of Queensland have found children in disadvantaged communities often go hungry when they attend early education and childcare centres.

Professor Karen Thorpe from the Queensland Brain Institute led a study of more than 900 childcare centres across Queensland which showed those in disadvantaged communities, where food insecurity was highest, were less likely to provide meals to children than those in more affluent areas.

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‘We discovered only 65% of childcare centres in rural and remote areas provide food,’ Professor Thorpe said.

Experts involved in the study say parents are trying to limit their spending with services charging $140 a day for looking after children and providing them with lunch, as opposed to charging $60 without meals.  

Professor Thorpe, winner of the Australian Fellowship Scheme, said some centres in low-income areas with high market competition did provide food without increasing fees. However, the study found the amount and quality of the food served to the children to be ‘inadequate’. 

As well as families struggling to afford to pay for childcare services, A report released by the United Workers Union earlier this year showed some childcare providers had a daily food budget as low as 65 cents per child. 

Due to institutions being unable to provide food for children, the report found kids were going hungry at the most important time of their early learning journey. 

‘We know without adequate nutrition it’s harder for children to learn and regulate their behaviour,’ Professor Thorpe said, ‘for children living in disadvantage, to then get poor quality food at childcare is a further blow.’ 

Although childcare staff have also been reported in the study to be struggling financially, researchers discovered they were giving their own food to children to make sure they are receiving at least one high-quality meal a day.

Professor Thorpe said the provision of high-quality food in Queensland’s most disadvantaged communities should be a public health priority.

‘It would mean children can learn and have a positive trajectory in health and education,” she said. “There’s currently a lot of investment in early childcare, but you need to spend the money wisely. You can’t deliver a high-quality education program if the children and staff are going hungry.’  

The study has been published in Social Science and Medicine.

Photo by Khamkhor


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