Concerns have been raised about children’s growth and learning after a report found increasing numbers of WA families were being forced to skip meals.
Foodbank WA’s annual Hunger Report found almost one in seven WA households, including 22,000 children, seek assistance from food relief charities each month, with almost half admitting to skipping a meal.
The report revealed 3.6 million Australians experienced food insecurity in the last year, with stress and depression a common side effect.
Nutritionist Sarah Moore said children needed a healthy diet for adequate growth and learning.
“Missing meals or not eating enough good quality food puts children at risk of nutrient deficiencies, poor productivity and learning outcomes,” she said.
“Children who don’t have enough food are likely to have poor self-esteem, feel tired, be unable to concentrate, and they get sick more often.
“They even have a higher risk of developing depression and chronic health conditions like asthma.”
Susannah McAlwey, who is trained in nutritional psychology, said evidence linking a poor diet and mental health was growing.
“The brain’s functioning is highly compromised when the body is being starved of food and nutrients,” she said.
“It can result in eating disorders, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, lack of energy and concentration, muscle atrophy, electrolyte imbalances and low blood pressure.”
In a statement, Foodbank WA chief executive Greg Hebble said the downturn in the economy worsened the hunger situation and resulted in more people turning to food charities for the first time.
Mr Hebble said there was an increase in demand for services because of a rise in basic costs such as electricity bills.
According to Foodbank, just under half the amount of people struggling to feed themselves or their families were employed and 41 per cent neglected paying bills to afford groceries.
Two in every five families needing assistance had dependent children, with more than half aged under 12.
Mrs Moore said the main priority for good nutrition when sticking to a budget was about getting enough variety in nutrients.
“Planning meals and snacks three or four days in advance can give a variety of different vegetables, grains and proteins to a diet, and it means you can make the most of the food you already have in the house,” she said.
Plain, unprocessed foods had multiple uses, and cooking with vegetables and legumes could stretch meals out over a longer period of time.
“My advice is to make meals in advance and freeze them, and host ‘bring a plate dinners’ instead of eating out,” Mrs Moore said.
Foodbank WA provides 479,000 meals a month and does not meet the high demand.
The rise in requests for assistance means 65,000 people are turned away from food charities each month.
Supermarket giant Woolworths has supported Foodbank for 15 years. It recently renewed a national agreement to provide an ongoing supply of surplus Woolworths branded food products to the organisation.