Asian street children playing

Malnutrition has 'devastating' effect on child's learning potential

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 12:00 GMT Jump to Comments

Chronically malnourished children are 20 per cent less literate than those with a healthier diet, says UK charity Save the Children.

The findings, included in the charity’s latest report Food for Thought, said malnutrition restricts children’s cognitive development, reduces their ability to learn and has “a devastating impact on a child’s future potential.”

Backed by some of the world’s best known children’s authors, the findings come just ten days before the first ever global nutrition summit hosted by David Cameron in London.

Save the Children’s Chief Executive, Justin Forsyth, said “no child should be so badly malnourished that they are left permanently damaged, struggling to read or write a simple sentence.”

The research is also said to show for the first time the extent to which a child’s brain can be permanently damaged if they don’t receive the right nutrition in their first two years.

“We have made huge progress tackling child mortality globally, but hunger is an Archilles’ heel and threatens to drag back progress. World leaders attending the summit must step up to tackle hunger”, said Forsyth.

Malnourished children were found to score 7 per cent lower in maths tests than healthier children, were 19 per cent less likely to be able to read a simple sentence aged 8, and were 13 per cent less likely to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school, the survey found.

UN figures suggest that in 2012, 47 per cent of children under five in southern Asia and 29 per cent of under-fives in sub-Saharan Africa were stunted, too short for their age due to poor nutrition.

In Nigeria, 10.9 million children under five are stunted while in India the figure is 61.4 million, say the UN.

With G8 also just over a month away, more than 25 figures in the world of children's literature have called on G8 leaders to step up their efforts to tackle hunger around the world.

Julia Donaldson, the Children’s Laureate and author of the bestselling book The Gruffalo, said: "The devastating impact of malnutrition shouldn’t be underestimated. It stunts a child’s development, sapping the strength of their minds as well as their body, depriving them of the chance to be able to read or write a simple sentence.

"Leaders attending this summit have a golden opportunity to stop this. They must invest more funding to tackle malnutrition if we are to stop a global literacy famine."

The report argues that the impact of malnutrition on children's learning is not simply that they are tired and unable to concentrate in class. The effects of malnutrition "go beyond the biology of the brain," it said.

A child's nutritional status can have an impact on how parents treat their child, it can mean the child is more likely to miss school and key learning opportunities, and can lead to the child having lower self-esteem, self-confidence and career aspirations, the report said.

The Young Lives study followed 3,000 children in four countries throughout their childhood. At key points in their lives, the children were interviewed and tested to determine their educational abilities, confidence, hopes and aspirations.

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