Could break­fast and lunch at schools re­duce stunt­ing?

FOOD SA study sees feed­ing pro­gramme as so­lu­tion to prob­lem caused by per­sis­tently high lev­els of food in­se­cu­rity in house­holds

Business Daily (Kenya) - - NEWS INDEPTH -

Stunt­ing, a con­di­tion in which chil­dren are shorter than the rec­om­mended height for their age — is a key in­di­ca­tor of long-term mal­nu­tri­tion. It has se­vere ef­fects on a child’s cog­ni­tive growth and devel­op­ment.

South Africa con­tin­ues to have a high preva­lence of stunt­ing. This is de­spite the fact that it’s a mid­dle in­come coun­try, which should put it on a par with coun­tries like Brazil, which has a stunt­ing preva­lence rate of just seven per cent. In South Africa nearly a fifth of chil­dren un­der the age of 14 are stunted, show­ing per­sis­tently high lev­els of food in­se­cu­rity in house­holds.

The tra­di­tional dom­i­nant think­ing about stunt­ing sug­gests that it’s an is­sue set in early child­hood and that af­ter the age of two there is lim­ited op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect it. But re­search has started to dis­rupt this con­ven­tional wis­dom, sug­gest­ing that there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to “catch up” in mid­dle child­hood — that is around the age of 7 years – and later again in pu­berty.our re­search builds on this new think­ing. It sug­gests that the phys­i­cal ef­fects of stunt­ing can be re­duced up un­til the age of 14 and that there is an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween lower stunt­ing lev­els and serv­ing chil­dren a com­bi­na­tion of a break­fast and lunch meals at school.

A MEAL ON AR­RIVAL

All chil­dren at­tend­ing 60 per cent of the poor­est schools in South Africa re­ceive a lunch meal as part of the Na-

tional School Nu­tri­tion Pro­gramme. Schools in South Africa are clas­si­fied into five quin­tiles (cat­e­gories): quin­tile one and two schools are the poor­est while quin­tile five are the wealth­i­est. The nu­tri­tion pro­gramme tar­gets schools in quin­tiles one to three.

Chil­dren at some quin­tile one and two schools are also be­ing given break­fast when they ar­rive at school through part­ner­ships that the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment en­ters into with cor­po­rates and foun­da­tions.

Our study as­sessed the ef­fects of chil­dren be­tween the ages of six and 14 re­ceiv­ing a com­bi­na­tion of break­fast and lunch against those who only re­ceived lunch. We looked at 39 schools. At eight of them, chil­dren re­ceived break­fast and lunch while at the other 31 they only got lunch. The schools were in the Lady Frere district of the East­ern Cape, the coun­try’s poor­est prov­ince. We mea­sured the chil­drens’ height and weight and found that the stunt­ing rate among chil­dren who re­ceived lunch was 14 per cent. This com­pared with a rate of 19 per cent for the prov­ince. The lower stunt­ing rate could be ex­plained by the age range of the chil­dren in our study. While the provin­cial av­er­age is for chil­dren from the age of 0 to 15 our sam­ple does not in­clude pre-school chil­dren who are more vul­ner­a­ble to stunt­ing.

Among the pupils who re­ceived two meals the stunt­ing rates was even lower – at nine per cent. This is de­spite these chil­dren be­ing from ar­guably poorer house­holds. Sim­i­lar re­sults were found in the ur­ban leg of the study. Con­ver­sa­tion

DEN­NIS ONSONGO

PUPILS eat­ing at Shin­ing Hope for the Com­mu­nity School in kib­era, Nairobi. Re­search sug­gests there is an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween lower stunt­ing lev­els and serv­ing chil­dren a com­bi­na­tion of a break­fast and lunch meals at school..--

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