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Faculty of Economics

A University of Cambridge academic suggests that the Government should look at the options for free school meals for children in the holidays, as an initiative to level nutritional inequalities.


Dr. Noriko Amano-Patiño

“Households with lower incomes consume less nutritious food irrespective of the areas where they live and how much they work. A big component of this disparity has to do with preferences and education but, surprisingly, income itself plays a huge role.” says Noriko Amano-Patiño a lecturer at the Faculty of Economics.

Although preferences play a significant part in healthy food choices - which has to do with nutritional knowledge and education - simply increasing the food budget of low-income families could have a big impact in their consumption.

In her paper, Nutritional Inequality: The Role of Prices, Income, and Preferences, she found that a 45% increase in the budget of the lowest quintile of the income distribution in the US, would make them divert part of their expenditure from unhealthy to healthy products, and closing the gap with respect to higher income households by approximately 40%. “And that can be directly relevant right now, when there is a debate over free school meals for children in England” she says.

The government has refused to extend the free school meals vouchers over the autumn half-term holiday, which were previously given out in the spring lockdown and the summer.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford has been leading a high-profile campaign to extend free school meals into the holidays for England, which is now policy in other areas of the UK.

She feels it is now important to look at policies that mitigate the differences in preferences for food, and this is particularly relevant as low income families in England no longer have access to the scheme.

“There are caveats in the proposed scheme. In particular, the cost of transport incurred by some households to access the supermarkets participating in the scheme, and the reportedly higher prices of food at supermarkets accepting the vouchers. However, it is worthwhile analysing whether the benefits outweigh these issues” she says..

The full paper, is available at:







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