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Living Below The Line for RESULTS: The Link Between Malnutrition and Education

April 13, 2012

In my previous blog I said how extreme poverty and the exclusion of children with disabilities from education we interlinked.

The links between malnutrition and education may not immediately be clear, but for those about to take on the Live Below the Line challenge for RESULTS it is important to consider the interaction between food, hunger and education.

Tackling malnutrition and ensuring children have access to food is an important way of improving access to education and ensuring children who are in school are able to fulfil their academic potential.

A good diet is important for a number of reasons; good nutrition improves children’s attendance, concentration, learning potential and wellbeing. Furthermore, good nutrition acts as a combatant against disease and illness, and contributes to more mobility in old age.

On the other hand, malnutrition greatly reduces children’s concentration and has a detrimental effect on their academic performance as well as their health. Poor nutrition increases the risks of today’s leading health problems in developing states that can eventually lead to premature death.

UNESCO shows that 54% of deaths to children under the age of five in developing countries are due to malnutrition. Children suffer greatly from deficiencies such as: protein-energy deficiency which stunts a child’s growth at their genetic potential; iron deficiency retards physical growth and delays cognitive development while increasing vulnerability to infections; vitamin A deficiency causes blindness, particularly in children; and iodine deficiency, which is the single most common preventable cause of mental retardation and brain damage in children.

School Meals

For families living in extreme poverty, getting enough to eat is a real problem. The UN World Food Programme estimates that 15 million children die of hunger every year and 146 million are underweight in developing countries.

Even children who attend school are not guaranteed a good diet; in many cases school meals are an additional cost that families cannot afford. In other cases schools do not provide meals, and children are expected to return home to eat. Those that do not, often face hunger and malnutrition. The latter has proved to be a particular problem for those disabled children who cannot cover the distance in time to return for class and go hungry every day at school.

Shikuku Obosi – a Kenyan leading disability activist – contracted polio as a child. To attend school he was walking with callipers and crutches for over two kilometres over uneven terrain. The difficulty of his journey meant that he couldn’t return home at lunchtime and his school did not provide meals. So every day at school, he went hungry.

Improving Nutrition in Schools

The World Health Organisation has declared the need for a nutrition intervention, not only for schools but their communities.
Some schools in certain developing countries – e.g. Benin, Central Africa Republic, Haiti, Tajikistan, Pakistan and occupied Palestinian territories – provide their students with free meals due to support from bilateral or multilateral agencies such as the United Nations World Food Programme. Beside the development context, the programme has implemented school meals in emergency, protracted relief and recovery contexts. As of 2011, the school meals programme is in 62 countries.

The organisation further assists participating schools to provide their students with meals through the ‘take-home rations programme’ as free school meals are usually the only nourishment they receive all day. In 2008 due to the high food price crisis, the World Food programme increased its school meals projects and reached 5 million children and their families in 14 countries.
The programme acts as a safety net for children and an incentive for households to send their children to school instead of getting them to work to help feed the family. It further establishes schools as interventions benefiting the entire community.

This examples shows us that the solution is not solely to encourage local education authorities to provide schools with resources to make available free school meals, but to push for governments and the international community to work together to ensure every child is in school, is nourished, and is able to learn to their full potential to break the cycle of poverty.

I have been Living Below The Line for RESULTS UK – one of the six major partners involved in Live Below The Line –  who are campaigning tirelessly to change the situation for the children that are currently out of education and for future generations of children. RESULTS are working to change the policies, practices and beliefs that leave so many disabled children excluded from education. By Living Below the Line for RESULTS, you are helping to provide a better future for millions of children.

If you believe in the importance of inclusive education I encourage you to either sign up to the challenge or donate to support the work of RESULTS.

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