Children’s food isn’t just about what they eat. It’s about recognising that children are consumers, and understanding how food is influenced by wider factors like family finances.
The past 30 years have seen profound changes in the ways children and families eat. We eat out more often, exposing us to foods that are generally higher in sugar, fat and salt (HFSS).
Children are buying more of their own food. In 1982, the UK average annual income of five- to 16 year-olds was £91. By 2001 their spending power had risen to £345 – more than £3bn nationwide. Over half of this was spent on snacks and fizzy drinks.
In 1999 the UK Labour Party promised to halve the number of children in poverty by 2010. But around 2.9 million children were still living in poverty in 2007-8, and the number of children in poverty is now rising.
Today’s children have frequent and unsupervised relationships with companies who promote their food through TV, magazines and the internet. Our society lacks the means to hold those companies directly accountable for their relationships with children,
In addition, society’s poorest people struggle to buy fresh food, partly due to access to shops, and partly because it’s cheaper to buy processed, foods high in sugar, fat and salt. Faced with a choice of paying the gas bill and buying expensive fruit and veg, parents are often forced to prioritise a warm home over five-a-day.