Hard News by Russell Brown


Chew before swallowing

A "new analysis" says a staggering 83,250 New Zealand children are "going to school hungry", according to the Herald's lead story today. Like hell it does.

The story is based on some math by health researcher Rob Quigley, who took the percentages from the 2002 National Children's Nutrition Survey and matched them against the 2006 census figures, coming up with the 80,000+ figure.

It would seem to mesh nicely with the current crop of news stories sparked by National Party leader John Key's call for businesses to donate food to schools - and Key promptly leapt on the numbers today, repeating his prescription for private charity and accusing the government of being in denial.

But the Children's Nutrition Survey is a survey of children's nutrition: what they're eating, when. In the report from the survey, there is a section on food security, but the words "hungry" and "hunger" do not appear in the report, and certainly not in the section about not eating breakfast at home, which was a completely different question.

Quigley, was far more circumspect than the Herald was when he was interviewed on National Radio this morning: he used the phrase "skipping breakfast", and noted that the survey did not cover some of the biggest breakfast-eaters, 16 to 18 year-olds.

There ought to be concern that more children from lower socio-economic groups than wealthier ones, and more Maori than Pakeha kids, don't eat at home before they go to school, but, as even the story notes toward the end, this eating trend isn't necessarily related to poverty. Younger kids are much more likely to eat before leaving the house than 12 year-olds, for example. Children from poorer families and Maori and Pacific Island kids are more likely to purchase food at the school tuck shop. Girls are more likely than boys to skip breakfast. Urban girls are more likely to leave home without eating than rural girls. But rural males are more likely to pick up something on the way to school than urban males.

I'm not seeking to dismiss poverty, or minimise the nutritional issues highlighted in the 2002 study, but this looks like the Herald, yet again, trying to own the news agenda with a beat-up story. I can hardly wait to hear what John Key says next.

(Although a policy statement on market rents for public housing would seem relevant.)

Anyway, it's Karajoz Great Blend night in Wellington tonight: we'll have the Back of the Y crew showing and telling on their chequered career, and then a panel on digital democracy with Chris DiBona, Alastair Thompson, Rob McKinnon and David Hume. It'll be fun. If you're all booked, you can arrive at 6.30pm.

And thanks to our lovely sponsors: Karajoz Coffee Company, Idealog magazine, Hatton Estate wines and Monteith's Brewing Company. There's a page here with more information on each.

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