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One in five children going to school hungry in cash crisis

One in five children is forced to go to school hungry because there is not enough food in their homes.

Economic hardship or domestic difficulties have been blamed for these children, between the ages of nine and 18, going to bed or school on empty stomachs.

The grim problem, revealed in a major Department of Health survey, has grown by 17pc over a four-year period.

Overall, 22pc of boys and 19pc of girls said they went to bed or school hungry.

Apart from those who were hungry because of the shortage of food at home there were a further 13pc of children who admitted never having breakfast for different reasons and this figure rose to 14pc for girls, some of whom said they were dieting.

The survey also found that a significant number of 15 to 17- year-olds said they were sexually active, but that most were taking precautions.

It showed that 31pc of boys and 23pc of girls in this age group have had sex and 93pc said they had used a condom. In the case of girls 59pc said they had used the birth control pill.

The use of drink, drugs and cigarettes among the 9 to 18- year-age group is dropping and about one third of the children said they had excellent health. Half felt very happy and three quarters said they were satisfied with life.

The study, which involves children filling out a questionnaire, is carried out every four years by the department. It showed that those describing themselves as "current drinkers" had dropped from 26pc in 2006 to 21pc in 2010.

Drunkenness also fell from 32pc to 28pc with children from poorer families more likely to report having been "really drunk" than those from wealthier homes.

Up to 8pc confessed to using cannabis in the past year with 10pc of boys and 6pc of girls saying they had used the drug. This too marked a dramatic drop in the numbers which were at 17pc in the 2006 survey.

In the area of nutrition the improvements were not so dramatic with only 20pc of children eating vegetables each day - a rise of 2pc.

The consumption of fruit was up from 19pc to 20pc, and children were eating less sweets at 37pc, down from 39pc.

However, the children admit to being less active with 51pc saying they exercise four or more times a week compared to 53pc in 2006.