Thursday, 24 October 2013

Nutrition and Education

Across the globe millions of school age children go to school daily without breakfast.

Good nutrition, particularly in the first three years of life, is important in establishing a good foundation that has implications for a child’s future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity. Although food insecurity is harmful to any individual, it can be particularly devastating among children due to their increased vulnerability and the potential for long-term consequences.

In Jamaica, it is estimated that more than thirty (30) per cent or at least three out of every ten children go to school daily without breakfast.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 16.7 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.

Child hunger is fasting increasing globally and in the Jamaican society as the world grapples with the issues of food security and the ever increasing prices of staples such as corn.   Despite our best efforts as a society by having a local school feeding programme, as well as, other intervention programmes, namely the Programme for Advancement through Heath and Education (PATH) we continue to see more and more families falling into poverty. Many families are barely coping and indeed struggling to adequately meet the basic needs of their families. In most instances the children are the first to experience the sacrifices that we are being called upon to maker.  In addition to children going to school without breakfast, a significant number of our children have “bad” breakfast in the mornings. Bad is defined as having an extremely high concentration of fatty and sugary foods. Researchers have made the connection regarding the correlation between having no or having bad breakfast and the impaired health and undesirable learning outcomes of our children.  By missing breakfast for whatever the reason we lose at least a quarter of the nutrients and energy we need for the day.  Even as adults if we should miss breakfast we do not function as well as when we have this most important meal of the day. Performance in the classroom will suffer and is being severely impacted as a result of the students skipping breakfast or having a “bad” breakfast.

Research suggest that students who miss breakfast will get sick more often and are more likely to suffer ear infections. Additionally, such students will have their cognitive capacity impaired, due to the fact that their brains do not have sufficient fuel or brain power for attention, concentration and learning. Having no breakfast or making bad choices for breakfast also impacts the mental health of our students. Such students tend to be more withdrawn and inattentive. Child hunger also affects manifest itself in students those students also have a higher tendency to exhibit more disruptive behaviours as well disciplinary disorders.

We need to put measures in place to expand the school feeding programme to meet the ever increasing food needs of our children. We need to add more foods from all the food groups and move away from a carbohydrate dependent diet which is what is currently in place.

If we do not give this issue the urgent and undivided attention it deserves we will continue to rob our children of their full potential as well as the country of the bright future that is ahead. 

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development studies as they affect culture and/or gender issues.