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
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
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..--