The study found students that had concerns around food security were more likely to ditch school. Photo / Stock

Teenagers from families that worry about affording food are more likely to suffer from poor health and less likely to turn up to school, according to new research.

The University of Auckland study also suggested the number of youths in this category was rising rapidly, with food security concerns affecting more than 40 per cent of all high-schoolers.

This included a shocking two of three Pacific youths and half of young Māori people.

A group of researchers from the university’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences looked at two nationally representative surveys aiming to gauge the health and wellbeing of high-school students in 2007 and 2012 respectively.

Responses from students reporting food concerns rose significantly between these two surveys. According to one researcher, Jennifer Utter, this mirrored a general increase in the impact of child poverty in New Zealand.

“Interventions that address food security for families may provide a tangible means of promoting the healthy development of children and young people,” she said.

In 2012 11 per cent of students said their parents or caregivers “often or always” worried about not having enough money to buy food while 33 per cent reported food security concerns “occasionally or sometimes”.

The surveys found this group of young people with food security concerns were more likely to report truancy, poor general health, mental health concerns and obesity.

Child Poverty Action Group’s education spokesman John O’Neill said the link between truancy and poverty-related food concerns had a lot to do with self-esteem.

“Naturally deprivation is also linked to not having clean clothes or the equipment you need at school.”

O’Neill said if a teenage girl wasn’t able to afford sanitary items they would often skip school during their time of month.

The same could be said with mental health, he said, though this was also a culmination of general health issues brought about by poverty and deprivation.

“To put it crudely when your life as a young person is crappy your health and wellbeing is going to suffer. And the extreme end of that is feeling like there’s no use in carrying on.”

This rang true with another of the researchers’ findings, O’Neill said, that nearly 12 per cent of young people with frequent food security concerns had attempted suicide in the past year. This compared with 2 per cent of students with no concerns in this area.

Utter said the findings highlighted the need to address family income and food prices as a way to tackle problems like suicidal behaviour at their roots.

Earlier this week Mangere Budgeting and Family Support chief executive Darryl Evans told the Herald the number of families going without food appeared to be getting worse.

Evans said the average amount struggling families had left for food after paying rent and bills has halved in the past year, from $83.33 to just $40.

“Food security isn’t getting any better, it’s getting a whole lot worse”, he said.

Source: NZ Herald

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