In the UK, it’s estimated that a third of children are going to school without breakfast. This estimate comes straight from teachers seeing kids arrive at school hungry, hampering their ability to learn and concentrate.
This was a major problem even before the pandemic, where 1.7 million children were at risk of morning hunger. In 2020, 76% of teachers already felt that food insecurity was affecting more pupils than it had a few years prior. Since then, the number of children going without breakfast has risen to 2.6 million and is feared to rise further with the ongoing cost of living crisis.
At Arla, we’ve been working with Magic Breakfast, a charity aiming to end hunger as a barrier to learning in UK schools. We’ve provided over 950,000 milk donations (that’s enough to fill almost 9.5 million bowls of cereal) to schools across the UK, helping to ensure no child is too hungry to learn.
Our research into the problem found that 81% of the 500 primary school teachers we asked said that children struggle to concentrate on their schoolwork if they’ve arrived with an empty stomach. Teachers also reported other side effects, including 75% saying children become more moody, and 67% said children feel lethargic by mid-morning.
As well as providing milk for children to get a proper start to their day, we’ve also been on a mission with Magic Breakfast to help children understand more about where milk comes from and how it ends up on their favourite breakfast cereal.
This includes opening up our barn doors to reveal the farmers responsible for producing our core food staples, including milk, helping kids to understand the connection between farm and fridge. We’ve even had primary school children from Leeds visit one of our farms in Yorkshire to see the action for themselves. This unique opportunity meant that children could understand more about food production, the job of the farmer, and the farm’s relationship to nature and the environment.
Our research found that primary school teachers estimate that around 8 children per class don’t understand where breakfast staples like milk come from, whilst nearly half the pupils said they’d never been to farm, showing just how important these opportunities can be.
We want all classrooms to be filled with smiling faces, not empty stomachs. Nutrition is such an important part of growing up, and it’s something we’re very aware of at Arla when it comes to milk, which provides protein, calcium, and vitamins B2, B12. As the UK’s largest dairy cooperative, it’s our responsibility to ensure children have access to the health benefits of milk, and never miss out on a nutritious breakfast.
“No child should have to start the day hungry and it’s devastating that these cases are only growing. The importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast is well documented and we’ve all experienced the difficulty of trying to concentrate on an empty stomach. Yet, Arla is aware too many schoolchildren start each day without receiving the essential nutrients they need to grow and fuel their learning.
It’s clear that for many of these children, making the connection between farm and food was a distant thought. That’s why we wanted to take children to the heart of it, to help educate on the importance of breakfast to their growth and development, but also where core breakfast staples come from and how farmers ensure it arrives safely and sustainably into their cereal bowls.
After the success of this year’s farm trip, I’m looking forward to seeing what other possibilities our partnership with Magic Breakfast brings, so that we can provide the next generation with the support they need.”
With hunger being a major barrier to learning, the rise in children needing support at breakfast is a real concern for teachers, after 90% felt that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for their pupils. Followed by 82% explaining that a child needs a proper breakfast so that they can focus in class and do their best work.
In fact, 47% of teachers say they bring in additional food to offer children something to eat, as they’ve arrived at school without. The top reasons that teachers felt would help most with the problem of children going to school on an empty stomach includes free school breakfasts for children who need them (75%), financial help from the government (55%), more education on why breakfast is the most important meal of the day (30%).”
Danny Micklethwaite from Arla
“It’s truly devastating that the number of children requiring support at breakfast time is only growing. We need to join forces and come together to provide these children with the food and support needed for their development and to fuel their learning.
With the help of partners like Arla, we offer a nutritious breakfast to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren every day across the country but with the rising cost of living, sadly the number of children going hungry is only growing.
It was wonderful to take children from one of our partner schools in Leeds to an Arla dairy farm and it highlighted the importance of educating children about where their food comes from and making healthy choices. We hope this will be the start of more real-life learning experiences for the children.”
Andrea Doughty, Magic Breakfast Team Leader (Schools)
Find out more about Arla and the work we’re doing with Magic Breakfast here.
*The study of 500 primary school teachers was commissioned by Arla and conducted by Perspectus Global in June 2022.