A report released this week by Save the Children UK shows how much malnutrition harms children’s chances of learning. In a study conducted by Young Lives in four countries, malnourished children scored 7% lower in mathematics tests, were 19% less likely to be able to read at age 8, and were 13% less likely to be in the appropriate grade for their age than those who are well nourished.
Nourishment during the mother’s pregnancy and until the child’s second birthday is the most critical period for structural brain development, as the report notes. Adequate nutrition for pregnant mothers and young children is vital to enable children to learn later in life.
The report, which looks at how much malnutrition harms a child’s overall life chances, shows that investing in nutrition at an early age has considerable economic benefits, improving learning, job prospects and earnings. According to other studies, children who were malnourished during early childhood went on to earn as adults as much as 20% less than those who were well nourished. The report estimates that while current childhood malnutrition could cost the global economy $125 billion when today’s children grow up, every $1 invested in nutrition now could bring economic benefits worth more than $100.
These findings confirm analysis in the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report showing that investment in learning – through strengthened health and education systems – provides long-term benefits for individuals and societies. Our report found that child malnutrition underlies more than half of all deaths among young children. Progress in early childhood nutrition is improving globally, but requires a stronger commitment and greater investment to reach the 6.9 million children who are still malnourished.
The Scaling Up Nutrition movement, discussed in Save the Children’s report, aims to fill the financing gap for child nutrition. The G8 leaders’ summit in June, co-hosted by the UK prime minister and the government of Brazil, will seek high-level commitments to help 16 countries reduce malnutrition. Given our report’s finding that education is an important way of combatting malnutrition, it is vital that these commitments include increasing support to education.
Read the full report: Food for Thought