The Healthy Living Lab was one of the first University research labs to investigate the phenomenon of holiday hunger.  The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) defines food security as “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 2003: 29).  Over the past six years, the UK has experienced economic and welfare cuts against a backdrop of increasing food prices.  An increase in the price of food is more difficult for families on low income to absorb as they have to spend a greater proportion of their income on food.  Food Security has become a serious concern for low income families, many of whom have sought support from charitable food distribution systems and civil society organisations.  The Department of Health (England) defines food poverty as “the inability to afford or, to have access to food to make up a healthy diet” (Department of Health, 2005).  The Poverty and Social Exclusion study (2012) reports that over 500,000 children in the UK live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly and, within these households, 93 per cent of adults miss a meal to ensure their children are fed (Gordon et al, 2013).  The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom (2014) made the same observations and called for action.

During school term Free School Meals (FSM) act as a safeguard for children from low income families but there is no additional state provision for these children over the school holidays. School holidays are difficult times for parents on low incomes as expenditure on essentials, such as food, increases without any additional income. It is widely recognised that food security at a household level affects the health, behavioural and educational outcomes of children (Nord & Hopwood, 2007; Gill & Sharma 2004; Dowler et al 2001; Department of Health 2013).  ‘Holiday hunger’ has a significant impact on the developmental needs of children and further research is needed to explore their dietary habits during the school holidays (Gill & Sharma, 2004). There is currently no coordinated approach by central government in addressing the nutritional needs of children during the school holidays.  A number of children’s charities, NGO’s and food banks provide assistance to families on low incomes during the school holidays.

Emily Mann is a PhD student within the Department of Psychology at Northumbria University.  Working under the supervision of Professor Greta Defeyter and Dr Lucy Grimshaw, Emily is undertaking a programme of research to evaluate the impact of holiday provision clubs on children and their families.

As part of her programme of research, Emily has undertaken a mapping exercise to investigate the location, distribution and delivery of holiday provision clubs. These data feature in the Hungry Holidays paper (AGGP on Hunger) and a report by the APPG on School Food.  In the absence of a national policy to address holiday hunger, local communities are responding to, and addressing, the needs of low income families during the school holidays.  In addition, this programme of research investigates the impact of these holiday provision clubs on the social, health and wellbeing outcomes of primary school-aged children, their families and the wider community. Recently Emily has been working with the Mayor’s Fund for London, researching the impact of Kitchen Social on a number of measures.

Jackie Shinwell is a collaborative PhD student working under the direction of Prof Defeyter and Dr Sharon Vincent within the Department of Psychology at Northumbria University. Jackie’s PhD is jointly funded by Northumbria University and Brakes and she is researching the efficacy of the Brakes ‘Meals and More Programme’ in terms of Health, Social and Economic and Educational Outcomes. Jackie’s research has a national reach but she has worked extensively in Scotland examining the effect of the school summer holiday on educational loss. Jackie has just had a paper on Summer Learning Loss accepted in Public Health Frontiers.

Holiday Hunger in the North East of England: Dr Zeb Sattar and Eilish Crilley, working under the direction of Prof Greta Defeyter, are currently working on a large-scale project in the North East of England examining the impact of Holiday Hunger. This project is in collaboration with Children North East and is funded by the Big Lottery. The project involves 17 delivery sites from across the North East and findings should be available in March 2018.

Holiday Hunger in Portsmouth: Eilish Crilley is also working with Prof Defeyter examining a holiday hunger scheme called ‘Summer Food and Fun’ with Portsmouth Council. The programme is delivered across six adventure playgrounds in Portsmouth as a joint venture between Portsmouth City Council and Food Portsmouth. Findings will be available in the New Year.


Street Games: Dr Pamela L Graham is leading a research project funded by Street Games (co-investigators: Dr Melissa Fothergill & Prof Greta Defeyter). The project is examining ‘Fit and Fed’ and aims to investigate engagement in physical activity and eating behavours across the summer holiday period.  Preliminary findings will be presented at a Parliamentary Roundtable Event in November 2017.


Prof Greta Defeyter and Dr Pamela L. Graham were awarded the BPS North of England Branch Public Engagement Award in 2107 for their research in the areas of School Breakfast Clubs and Holiday Hunger. Prof Defeyter was also awarded the Food Heroes Award from Sustain for her research and educational resources on school breakfast clubs and holiday hunger.