In June the Ministry of Health published a report which should have got a bit more attention than it did. Household Food Insecurity Among Children is a look at one of our basic needs: food – and who has secure access to it, and who doesn't.
Many of us never have to worry about having access to enough safe and healthy food. But for a distressing number of Kiwis, "food insecurity" is an everyday worry. Food insecurity is defined as "a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods".
Put simply: it means people don't have enough to eat. Or they might not be able to eat a varied diet with enough healthy food; or they may not be able to provide food to share at social occasions. It means parents eat less or don't eat at all so their kids can. And it sometimes mean kids don't always have a lunch to take to school.
There's some interesting (and sad) information in the report, and people who have recently protested that the government providing lunches for kids in schools is somehow "letting off" bad parents should really seek it out and have a read.
The report finds one-in-five Kiwi kids is living in severely to moderately food-insecure households. It is based on data from the NZ Health Survey done in 2015/16. We can probably assume things have not suddenly got better since then.
There's a clear link between deprivation in various forms and food security; the out-take for me is that it's a lot easier to be a "good" parent when you have enough money coming in.
Money makes a difference.
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Of kids who lived in households with incomes of less than $50,000, 42 per cent were living with food insecurity, compared with just 8 per cent in households with incomes of more than $50,000.
Fifty-five per cent of kids in households relying on benefits were living in food insecurity; that's 92,000 kids.
Household food insecurity was far more common among children living in rented housing compared to privately owned housing.
Being able to afford to eat properly should be a basic human right. It's not just about feeling a bit hungry. Food insecurity is linked to lots of poor outcomes for kids.
For example: kids in food-insecure households have twice the incidence of obesity (18 per cent) of food-secure kids. They are more likely to have asthma. They're less likely to get the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. And they're far more likely to have learning, development or behavioural issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents in food-insecure households are more likely to report psychological distress and stress related to parenting.
If providing a lunch to a child every day can ease some of the pressure on food-insecure households, it's likely to have a powerful effect in evening out the inequity. It could be the thing that allows a child to learn and thrive. That's something we should all believe in.
• Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthyfood.com