Jules Sebastian joins forces with Sanitarium Weet-Bix to shine a light on child hunger

In the early hours of the morning, before most Australians have woken up, there are dedicated organisations and volunteers tackling an epidemic hiding in plain sight; one in five Aussie kids will be experiencing food insecurity and many will be going to school hungry.

Recently, media personality and mother of two, Jules Sebastian was invited to visit one of the schools supported by Sanitarium’s Good Start Breakfast Club program.

Through provision of a nutritious breakfast in a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment before classes start, the program aims to address the physical, emotional and behavioural impacts that hunger and poor nutrition has on children.

Since 2001, the program has delivered more than 15 million serves of Weet-Bix to breakfast clubs in every state and territory of Australia.

“It was shocking for me to learn how many children are going without food. When I thought about people going hungry, I thought about issues that are more understood such as homelessness, but I never imagined the heart-breaking decisions parents were having to make between paying a bill or feeding their children. You just don’t hear these stories so I just knew I had to do something more to help,” said Sebastian.

As explained by Foodbank CEO, Brianna Casey, food insecurity is not well understood in Australia, “Food insecurity is different to hunger, we’ve all felt hungry at some point. For those facing food insecurity, the unfortunate reality is that they do not have regular access to the ingredients required to put a nutritious meal on the table for themselves and their family.”

Research from Foodbank has shown, 87% of parents living in food insecure households have skipped a meal so their children can eat, and the emotions of shame and embarrassment are significant with 41% of parents who live in food insecure households feel other parents assume the reason their child is not being fed is due to neglect.

“I can so clearly see now, how a crisis can hit any family at any time – job losses, illness, injury, all against the backdrop of rising costs of living like rent and electricity, and low levels of welfare support. In winter it can get even harder with families having to make the terrible choice between eating or heating,” said Sebastian.

Sanitarium supports not-for-profit partners Foodbank, Kickstart for Kids and The Australian Red Cross to deliver Weet-Bix and other Sanitarium breakfast supplies to more than 2,200 school-run breakfast clubs every year.

“Of children experiencing food insecurity, breakfast is the meal they are most likely to not get, but we know developmentally it’s the meal they need most. Children who continually don’t get breakfast, particularly a nutritious one of wholegrains, milk and some fruit, miss out on many key nutrients they need every day to be healthy.  This includes carbohydrates, protein, fibre, vitamins such as B vitamins and minerals including iron and zinc. These nutrients are essential for physical growth, intellectual development and mental performance,” said Trish Guy, Nutritionist, Sanitarium.

Foodbank’s 2018 Rumbling Tummies Report also shows that parents see the following types of behaviour in their children’s wellbeing when they do not have enough to eat:

  • 22% become agitated and irritable
  • 24% more outbursts and tantrums and 24% become unhappy
  • 17% sleeping patterns change
  • 17% act up at school and 16% cannot concentrate at school

“When you see these negative effects of not having enough nutritious food to eat, and then imagine trying to put a child in a classroom to learn, you can immediately understand how these kids can fall behind at school – dramatically changing their future opportunities,” continued Guy.

For Ian Steel, CEO of Kickstart for Kids which delivers breakfast club programs in South Australia, the knock-on effects this issue has is a story he is all too familiar with, “I’ve been mentoring socially disadvantaged kids for a long time and what I’ve seen has changed my world; kids living in the backs of cars without anything, and kids who are absolutely starving.

“Today, we serve 50,000 breakfast to kids in 360 schools through the state and the difference between before and after is transformational in their lives – something as simple as getting a good breakfast to set up the day,” said Steel.

“Sanitarium is committed to investing in and supporting our partners deliver breakfast clubs reaching some of Australia’s most vulnerable kids. We know good nutrition is key to giving Aussie kids the opportunity to live and learn at their best,” said Julie Praestiin, Social Purpose, Sanitarium.

Unsurprisingly, with the significant stigma and shame associated with the challenges facing many families, and Sebastian has a simple ask, “Firstly, let’s break down the stigma that might be attached to needing a helping hand through a tough time. And secondly, let’s bring more awareness to how big this issue is – and how fast it is growing here in this lucky country of ours, because that’s when more help will arrive.  And the one way we can do that, is to talk about this issue – share these stories,” said Sebastian.

See Sebastian’s experience of learning more about this issue and seeing the Good Start Breakfast Club program in action here: https://youtu.be/RLjIZ3n77zA

Last updated: 25 July 2018