Good nutrition vital for our intellectual power as a nation
Categories: HEADLINES, Education, Health
Investing in childhood nutrition is essential for prosperity, particularly in a world where a nation’s greatest resource has become the intellectual power of its people. However, when one in five pre-schoolers is stunted and risks learning difficulties due to malnutrition, where micronutrient deficiencies permanently damage young brains, and where hunger limits the potential of over 3.2 million children’s performance at school – that resource is wasted.
How can we compete internationally when a large percentage of our population’s potential is being compromised from childhood? We have to take action to turn the tide on hunger.
Malnutrition causes delays in cognitive development, ranging from decreased IQ scores, language development and problem-solving abilities through to learning disabilities and reduced social skills. Stunted children achieve up to 3.2 less years of education, according to the African Union “Cost of hunger in Africa” report. Studies show that malnourished 2-year-olds are 16% more likely to fail at least one grade in school in future, while undernourished children are 19% less likely to be able to read aged 8.
While the National Schools Nutrition Programme and social grants are improving access, NGOs are playing a vital role, at times providing the only nutritious meal of the day for many children. Registered dietitian advising NGO Afrika Tikkun, Abby Courtenay, explains, “Hungry children are simply unable to concentrate at school. Besides the disastrous impact on education, other long-term consequences include a weakened immune system resulting in frequent absence and increased risk of chronic diseases throughout life. Unfortunately, early damage due to anaemia, iodine deficiency, and chronic malnutrition can only partially be reversed in later life. Preventive programs around nutrition in early childhood must be prioritised as this is the most cost-effective period for investment in education and future success.”
Afrika Tikkun is one of 137 NGOs nationally where feeding programmes are supported by Add Hope. The initiative, started in 2009, has seen over R400 million channelled towards feeing to date and currently feeds 120 000 children on an ongoing basis. “NGOs really need our support and Add Hope is a simple way for people to help. Customer donations have increased from R6.2 million in 2010 to R38.6 million in 2016, which together with KFC Corporate Social Responsibility donations, enable us to reach more children through new beneficiaries including childhood development organisations, children’s homes and school feeding programmes every year.
Mkhwanazi says that while poverty is the leading cause of hunger, poverty also results from hunger, and we need to do more to break this cycle. “Early childhood nutrition is the most important factor in creating a better future, unlocking intellectual potential and boosting prosperity. Your R2 gives hope to children all over the country.”