School per­for­mance linked to nutri­tion

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - SIPHUMELELE KHU­MALO

CHILD health can be linked to long-term poor per­for­mances in school.

A re­cent anal­y­sis by Daniela Casale, us­ing data from the Na­tional In­come Dy­nam­ics Study (Nids), found a link be­tween child health and ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance. Casale said this in­for­ma­tion sug­gested that in­ter­ven­tion through the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion’s school feed­ing schemes had not been suf­fi­cient.

As a re­sult of the pa­per, re­searchers are call­ing for pol­icy re­forms that will in­crease the ef­fec­tive­ness and im­pact of school feed­ing schemes across South Africa.

Casale’s pa­per an­a­lysed data from chil­dren from 2008 to 2014/15 through four rounds of Nids data col­lec­tion, us­ing in­for­ma­tion such as height-for-age and body mass in­dex (BMI) as mea­sures of stunt­ing and obe­sity re­spec­tively. These, in turn, were taken as mea­sures of poor nutri­tion.

The anal­y­sis found that chil­dren who were poorly nour­ished from the early years of their life rou­tinely per­formed worse in school than their peers.

Ed­u­ca­tional out­comes were mea­sured by us­ing the age the child started Grade 1; the num­ber of grades they had com­pleted by 2014/15; and the an­swers to a se­ries of ques­tions on whether the child passed, failed or with­drew be­fore com­plet­ing grades they had en­rolled in.

Chil­dren stunted when they were aged eight or younger per­formed sig­nif­i­cantly worse than their non-stunted peers.

“They were found to have en­rolled later for Grade 1, com­pleted fewer years of school­ing and were more likely to have failed grades they en­rolled in.

“This could have a knock-on ef­fect for their fu­ture ed­u­ca­tion prospects too, ul­ti­mately im­pact­ing on their earn­ing po­ten­tial down the line,” said Saman­tha Rich­mond, the Nids se­nior op­er­a­tions man­ager.

“The find­ings from this anal­y­sis make a com­pelling ar­gu­ment for as­sess­ing how ex­ist­ing school feed­ing schemes are be­ing im­ple­mented and, by ex­ten­sion, what changes can and should be made to en­sure their ef­fec­tive­ness,” said Rich­mond.

“In ad­di­tion, the anal­y­sis points to the fact that feed­ing schemes may need to start ear­lier in or­der to reach chil­dren be­fore they get to school,” she added.

Rich­mond said the Nids data could help pol­i­cy­mak­ers bet­ter un­der­stand the con­se­quences of poor nutri­tion and make in­formed de­ci­sions that pos­i­tively im­pact child health.

“Thanks to Nids we are be­gin­ning to un­der­stand the im­pact of stunt­ing on a child’s fu­ture. Nids data paints a con­cern­ing pic­ture of avoid­able dam­age to chil­dren’s fu­ture prospects.

“There is still sig­nif­i­cant in­equal­ity in child health along so­cio-eco­nomic lines, and lag­ging be­hind in ed­u­ca­tion means that for many, the cy­cle of poverty is set to con­tinue,” Rich­mond said.

PIC­TURE: THOMAS MUKOYA/REUTERS/ANA

STUNT­ING: Lack of nu­tri­tious food for chil­dren has a neg­a­tive im­pact when it comes to a child’s learn­ing abil­i­ties, the writer says.

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