THE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES
Some armchair critics of a ‘Feed-Our-Kids’ government-backed and -funded programme will say that we shouldn’t do it because parents after all should look after their own children and feed them. If they don’t they’re not carrying out their responsibilities. But the fact remains that if a child is not fed we know they don’t learn. We’ve always maintained that an empty stomach results in an empty brain particularly when it relates to learning capacity in children.
The devastating impact of malnutrition shouldn’t be underestimated. It stunts a child’s development, sapping the strength of their minds as well as their body, depriving them of the chance to be able to read or write a simple sentence.
The long-term consequences of child malnutrition for health and resilience to disease are well established. Research carried out by the University of Oxford presents new evidence that for the first time identifies the impact of malnutrition on educational outcomes across a range of countries. The study suggests children who are malnourished at the start of life are severely disadvantaged in their ability to learn.
A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE
Our brain takes the longest of any organ to develop and goes through more changes than any other organ. When a child is deprived regularly of food, the neurons in the brain that induce hunger start eating or “cannibalizing” themselves.
The brain is a terrible thing to waste. It is a hungry organ as well, comprising about 2% of total body mass but consuming 20% of the oxygen and glucose used by the body. Experience has demonstrated that if any part of the brain becomes damaged a specific deficit will be produced.
We have a generation now growing up as hungry children and as they age, many of us will notice a loss of mental sharpness in them thinking that this is just part of getting older. But then, why is it that aging cannot explain the current epidemic of severe mental deterioration in young adults living in countries where a large percentage of their population are economically disadvantaged.
More and more children of our own children are showing behavioral and learning difficulties. Nearly 30-years ago, child poverty rates in New Zealand were about half current levels. Today, 25% of our children live in households where incomes fall below recognised poverty thresholds. This accounts for about 270,000 children. Many of these children experience significant material deprivation, and many remain poor for long periods of time.
Ultimately, children who are chronically hungry become victims. If they are not adequately fed today all we are doing is squandering the potentials of our own futures. Therefore, imagine what a child could do, what a nation could do, what we ourselves as a community could do if our hungry children are nourished to reach their full growth and potential.
POWERHOUSE FOR DEVELOPMENT
Undeniably, a lack of adequate nutrition can cause 5-year-olds to lose up to a half-foot of growth. It is no surprise that such effects also extend to their immune system and cognitive de velopment, permanently limiting their capacities and oppor tunities throughout life. One study has found that improving nutrition during childhood can increase earnings in adult life by up to 46%.
The effects of not prioritising nutrition in national development agendas or not adequately funding it are costly: the World Bank estimates that countries blighted by stunting and other con sequences of malnutrition lose at least 2-3% of their gross domestic product, as well as billions of dol lars in forgone productivity and avoidable health care spending each year.
Investing in proper and adequate nutrition for our children in New Zealand isn’t about politics or the jockeying of one side against another in any upcoming election. The real bottom-line is not about holding on to political power but ensuring the country as a whole can reap significant economic ben efits.
WHAT”S REALLY AT STAKE TODAY
For ordinary citizens and communities across the land especially those of age who hold the power of the vote, this is what’s really at stake today: that proper nutrition of our children ultimately results in creating a powerhouse for development. It drives outcomes for educational achievement, improved health, productivity and overall economic performance which, when summed up all together, builds a better, more prosperous and more secure New Zealand for all.
Feeding our hungry children in schools is a cost-effective opportunity for major, sustainable, national development because good nutrition truly empowers children, their families, our communities as it ultimately does our country.
The question is, however, for how long and how much of an investment should be made?
WEATHER THE BAD TIMES AS WELL
It is not up to our political leaders to decide on this issue alone. We are witnessing that in a few other countries today commu nities are raising the bar of awareness and taking action to scale up the issue of nutrition and ones which allows their children to thrive in the good years and to weather the bad times as well.
Common sense arguments that are now on the table include what are the type and level of resources needed to tackle mal nutrition over the long-term to avoid a literacy famine and whether their political leaders are working with new partners, coordinating across sectors and looking for more innovative ways to create sustainable change that no one organisation, community, business or government could achieve alone.
On the home front and in response to a report on child poverty by an expert advisory group set up by the Children’s’ Commissioner, the Government announced that it will put up NZ$ 9.5-million over the next 5-years to allow private sector entities like Fonterra and Sanitarium to expand school breakfast programmes to 5-days a week for all schools that need it.
Prime Minister John Key also revealed in the same announce ment that although he believed it was the parents’ responsibility to feed their children, the Government accepted that it did need to step in even as the same expert advisory group presented Government with 77 other recommendations which it has yet to decide or act on. Government’s response would be to con tinue considering those recommend ations and determine whether further measures are required and affordable over the medium to long term.
Nevertheless, it’s a good start because the two companies men tioned have also stepped up by committing to match funds of more than NZ$ 4.5-million each. The extra funding will cover half of the expected costs to expand ‘KickStart’ – a programme set up in 2009 by Sanitarium and Fonterra to provide breakfasts of weetbix and milk twice a week to children atten ding some 570 schools represent ing half of all decile 1-4 schools. The extra funding is expected to help increase the number of schools to receive the programme and ensure it is offered every school day.
Other Government initiatives include an extra NZ$ 500,000 a year for the next 3-years for KidsCan – a charitable trust founded in 2005 in a garage in Greenhithe, Auckland which supports the education of thousands of children in 279 low decile schools throughout New Zealand, providing food, shoes, socks, fleece lined All Blacks raincoats and basic hygiene items.
LOCAL ACCOUNTABILITY FRAMEWORKS
Besides SCOT Trust New Zealand, there are also others in our community – who before Government’s recent announcements were already contributing towards making a difference.
We take notice of the case of a South Auckland school which has started a food bank for families who can’t feed their children and whose hopes are raised just like SCOT’s for more action by Government and businesses to help charitable organisations help schools with a raft of hungry pupils.
Partnerships and other forms of collaboration with SCOT Trust New Zealand becomes a unique opportunity for parties who get involved in that the SCOT acts as a facilitator to channel resources towards where it is sorely needed at the coalface level. In a manner of speaking, we have the passengers, we have the pilot, navigator and the plane but we need a lot more more fuel to get things up and flying much further.
These are the kind of efforts SCOT and others like it are trying to create as a template that can be taken to Government, local councils, businesses and other organisations and say, “Hey, this works.”
New Zealanders should not expect its government to always fix the country’s social ills. The most immediate issue is hunger in our schools largely because there is a resource gap between public and private sector resources as it relates to those schools and charitable organisations like SCOT.
Even today if government commits itself to working in some areas through policy-driven programmes that help troubled families turn their lives around for a better life, these efforts are still not integrated well enough to empower local authorities, businesses and charities as partners towards developing strong local accountability frameworks.
As such, SCOT calls upon potential volunteers, corporate sponsors, individual donors and other like-minded charitable organisations to come together in an alliance and partnership with SCOT because together we do much more.
SCOT Trust New Zealand | Feeding Our Kids
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