One in five children in Belgium now arrive in school hungry, as high inflation and soaring food prices have left many of the country's poorer households increasingly unable to feed their kids, a recent survey has found.
According to the study, which was conducted by Spark Market Research and reported on by La Dernière Heure (DH), almost one in four Belgian families (24%) reported difficulty feeding their children, while 53% of families were uncertain as to whether they will have access to adequate amounts of food over the coming months.
Teachers, too, witnessed a similar rise in child hunger: three in four reported seeing hungry children at school at least once a week, while 40% of Belgian teachers now personally bring food to class on a regular basis to feed their students.
"We are talking about children of all ages who arrive at school on an empty stomach," Elisabeth Verschoore, the Director of the Don Bosco School in Brussels, which was also involved in organising the study, told DH. "During lessons, [teachers] notice several direct effects that are becoming more and more worrying. There is fatigue, difficulty concentrating, a feeling of depression, sadness or even non-participation in class. Not to mention the risks of developing a disorder or a disease because of food deficiencies."
"Many of the families we talk to are worried not only about the future in general, but also about how they will feed themselves in the coming days and weeks. We know that the most vulnerable people in society have been the most financially affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and that they are now being hit by the cost of living crisis... There is a real need to help families," Verschoore added.
The report further noted that, although food precariousness has to some extent always existed in Belgium, it has risen precipitously in recent years.
"When we compare the situation with the previous study carried out in 2016, we realize that it is an increase of almost 10% [of families who have difficulty feeding their children]," said Luc Houben, the Managing Director of Spark Market Research and the General Manager of Kellogg Benelux. "And for this figure, almost half of households say they have not yet recovered from the health crisis."
"The results obtained send strong signals in terms of food insecurity, the situation is really alarming. It is maddening to see the number of people who have difficulties due to the increase in the cost of living and its impact on the daily lives of families," he added.
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Verschoore corroborated Houben's assessment that the problem of food hungry has become significantly worse in recent years. "There are many more young people today who find themselves deprived of breakfast than before Covid," she said, adding that one major issue confronting attempts to address the crisis is that the majority (55%) of Belgian households report feeling a sense of shame when using emergency food services such as food banks.
"The problem is that parents are often embarrassed to talk about it, there is a form of shame to mention these kinds of worries," she said.