Children’s authors are launching a campaign today to persuade governments to step up aid to combat malnutrition which blights the life chances of millions of children.
The move follows a report by the Save the Children charity which shows the lack of a nutritious diet can severely harm a child’s ability to read and write and answer basic maths questions correctly.
The authors, including Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond, Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) and author and comedian David Walliams, will lobby heads of government of the G8 countries to give priority to providing extra support to combat malnutrition. They are meeting in London on 8 June for a special summit on nutrition hosted by David Cameron.
Save the Children’s report, based on research in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam, suggests that, by the age of eight, malnourished children are 19 per cent more likely to make a mistake reading a simple sentence like “I like dogs” or “the sun is hot” than children whose growth is not stunted. It also focuses on the economic consequences of malnutrition, estimating that the global impact could be up to $125bn (£80bn) a year. Brendan Cox, of Save the Children, said: “I think we were quite surprised by the scale of the impact malnutrition can have.”
The report concludes that stunted growth through malnutrition can have a significant impact on cognitive development. It adds: “Being less malnourished was associated with higher school aspiration, self-efficacy and self-esteem. Children who were stunted at age five scored on average 7 per cent worse on a maths test three years later.”
Justin Forsyth, the chief executive of Save the Children, said: “These findings confirm … that poor nutrition is capable of seriously damaging a child’s life chances before he or she even sets foot in a classroom.”