‘Poor nutrition among children of school age affects cognitive development’
Hunger and malnutrition among children in developing countries like Nigeria, have continued to impair their health, affect their quality of lives and survival, as well as affect the cognitive development of school-age children.
Cognitive development is a field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a child’s development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, language learning, and other aspects of brain development and cognitive psychology compared to an adult’s point of view.
Unachukwu, who is the proprietress of Child Education Development Centre (CEDEC) International Schools, Lagos, while speaking against the backdrop of plans to re-introduce school feeding programme in the country, however, cautioned the government that care should be taken to ensure that the proper take-off, management and sustenance of the programme, as failure to do would result in a shoddy execution of the initiative, which may also have negative impacts on the quality of teaching and learning children.
“Hunger and malnutrition among children in developing countries like Nigeria continue to impair health, quality of life and survival of school-age children and makes them particularly vulnerable. However, the recent federal government initiative on school feeding will offer an excellent opportunity for intervention in this age group; this is in line with the Millennium Development Goals 1 and 2,” the school proprietress added.
She continued, “The feeding of primary school pupils as an initiative, if adequately carried out, surely will translate into improved academic performance. Malnutrition, which is lack of proper nutrition, or absence of intake of sufficient nutrients by quality, occurs when food does not supply sufficient nutrient to cover the body needs. Research has showed that the critical period of brain growth is the stage between ages 0-8years.
“A child that is malnourished has little energy to play and explore the environment around him/her, and failure to interact effectively with human and physical environment minimises the child’s ability to acquire new knowledge concepts and skill that promote brain development. There is overwhelming evidence that at primary school age, malnutrition impairs intellectual development,” she stated.
Unachukwu, who said previous efforts at providing free meals to primary school children, were not successful due to inadequate planning and mismanagement of available funds and resources, said the recent promise by the Federal Government has a lot to add to basic education in Nigeria.
“Education and learning depend on good nutrition and health. These two factors are powerful influences on a child’s learning and on how well a child performs in school. Children who lack certain nutrients in their diet (iron and Iodine), or who suffer from protein-energy deficiency, malnutrition, hunger, parasitic infection or other diseases do not have the potential for learning. Poor nutrition among children of school age affects their cognitive development. Children with cognitive abilities naturally perform less well and are more likely to repeat school grades or drop out.”
She maintained that the school feeding programme will heighten effective school-community relationship and involvement because the schools would depend on the communities to produce food for them thereby enhancing effective community’s involvement.
“If the feeding programme is successfully implemented, there would be increase in the activity level of the children, increased memory, frequency of school attendance and school retention, high concentration on school activity and increased attention activity. Poorly fed children are more exposed to disease infections and emotional frustrations as compared to well-fed children, she added.
The proprietress who pointed out that school feeding programme has improved enrolment figures, attendance rate and also reduced drop-out rates among school-age children, also informed that, “In the extreme northern province of Cameroon, for example, the programme succeeded in increasing girls’ enrolment by 313 per cent. For us as Nigerians, school feeding would enable poor children to go to school by providing them with at least one nutritious meal a day. The food will act as an incentive and catalyst for the children to go to school despite poverty and hunger at home.