The UK’s largest dairy cooperative, Arla, has revealed new research in its report ‘Empty Tummy Disadvantage’, which states that four million children currently arrive to school hungry.

These children have a disadvantage in achieving their goals and learning, meaning there could be a future shortfall of 455,000 doctors, 413,000 veterinarians and 331,000 police officers by 2043 if child hunger is not addressed.

Four million schoolchildren are already at risk of lacking career ambition – with hunger possibly affecting their ability to concentrate.

As a result of this, their grades may be negatively impacted, according to the report.

Research has shown that students who ‘rarely’ eat breakfast are lagging two grades behind students who do eat breakfast.  

Arla’s ‘Empty Tummy Disadvantage’ report found that the majority (84%) of parents noticed changes in their child’s behaviour when hungry, including becoming more irritable (44%) and less able to concentrate (16%). 

Behavioural Science Expert, Dr. Simon Moore, stated: “On an empty stomach, our body produces a specific hormone called Ghrelin, where high levels have been linked to shorter levels of attention span.

“For children, this feeling of hunger can provide a shift from stable concentration in school, which can then lead distraction and a change in behaviour.”

He added that this could have “potential implications on a child’s ability to focus, therefore providing a barrier to learning and reaching their true potential”.

Breakfast clubs for children

Dr. Moore also talked about free breakfast clubs, which can help close this “gap” by providing school children with the nutrition they need to focus in classes and achieve their full potential.

Arla surveyed a sample of parents which revealed that fewer than one-in-five parents could access a free breakfast club at school, with others needing to pay to use the service, and some being unsure what was on offer or saying there was no breakfast club in their school.

As a result, only 13% of parents sent their child to breakfast club every school day, despite an estimated quarter of children experiencing food insecurity.  

Arla is working with the charity Magic Breakfast to make sure no child in the UK is too hungry to learn.

To help, the dairy cooperative has provided Arla Cravendale milk more than 8.5 million bowls of Magic Breakfast cereal during the last three years.

Primary school teacher at Campsbourne Primary School, Lucy Norman, said: “The sad reality of being a teacher is seeing children starting at a disadvantage because they’re hungry, which immediately impacts their ability to learn.

“I have unfortunately seen first-hand the impact of the Empty Tummy Disadvantage. Children that are hungry are often less able to concentrate and keep engaged in lessons, which has knock-on effects in their learning development.”

Head of milk at Arla, Catriona Mantle, said: “At Arla, we believe in closing the hunger gap and the importance of ensuring healthy and nutritious dairy is available to all. 

“Together with Magic Breakfast, we are raising awareness of the Empty Tummy Disadvantage and encouraging as many people as possible to add their voices in #BackingBreakfast.” 

Arla and Magic Breakfast have worked together since 2020, and have donated enough Cravendale milk to fill more than 8.5 million cereal bowls, the co-op has said.