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Summer dietary habits 'can affect attainment gap between rich and poor students'

13/06/2017 Joanna

Differences in eating habits between richer and poorer students during summer holidays may have an influence on their respective attainment levels, according to new research.

Northumbria University researchers has indicated that attainment among poor six to eight-year-olds in three areas of England and Scotland can drop to around four-and-a-half weeks behind where it was before the summer break, reinforcing the findings of previous studies showing a "summer learning lag" from the US, reports TES.

It had been thought that this effect was less significant in the UK due to the fact that summer breaks are usually shorter, but this research shows that the deficit is in fact just as pronounced in Britain as it is in America.

This issue has been attributed to unhealthy eating habits and the fact that many poor children go hungry during the summer, due to the lack of access to regulated meals provided by the school.

The latest research aimed to examine potential solutions to this, looking at data from 428 organisations that provide food to children who might otherwise be hungry during school holidays, while a separate pilot analysed the educational impact of three of these programmes and a third report explored the views of 256 parents.

It was shown that the summer schemes, which gave children access to books and healthy food, helped to improve reading scores and stop body mass index levels increasing. The findings also suggested that such programmes may be most beneficial when they focus more on encouraging children to eat, rather than emphasising educational activities.

Lead researcher Professor Greta Defeyter, an expert on school breakfast clubs and holiday hunger, called for such schemes to be offered in less of a piecemeal and unregulated manner than is presently the case, as this approach may be minimising their benefits.

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