By Sam Sudheer Bandi, Save the Children India.
This week, we launched our Food for Thought report, which highlights the dreadful impact of malnutrition on children’s physical, mental and educational development – and eventually, on the countries they live in.
Our analysis shows that a quarter of the world’s children are at risk of under-performing at school, because of malnutrition.
These are the figures: Kasturi and millions like her are the human reality.
In Andra Pradesh, India, I met 8-year-old Kasturi. When she was born, her family were desperately short of food. “There were times we were hungry for days,” her dad, Srinivas, told me.
Both Katsuri and her twin sister were born underweight and their mother, Lakshmi, struggled to feed them.
“We didn’t have enough food,” she told me. “I used to breastfeed my children but my milk wasn’t enough for both of them.” At just ten months old, Kasturi’s twin died.
Kasturi survived and is now a healthy, happy 8-year-old. But poor diet at the beginning of her life still affects her ability to learn and she has already had to repeat a year of school.
Chandra Kala has been Kasturi’s teacher for 2 years. “Her learning is very slow,” she tells me. “There’s been no major improvement. Even though she is in class 3 now, she still struggles with words and maths.”
A striking contrast
Kasturi has an older sister, Sangeeta, and the contrast in their stories is striking. When Sangeeta was born, Srinavas was earning enough to afford a healthy diet for his family – and his eldest daughter has gone on to thrive at school.
“Sangeeta was one of our brightest students in primary school,” says Chandra Kala. “And I hear a lot of good things about her from her teachers in secondary school.”
“There are a lot of children like Kasturi,” Chandra Kala continues, going on to explain that she often sees children from poorer families struggling to learn.
Kasturi’s headmaster agrees that nutritious food plays a vital role in children’s learning. As evidence, he cites two bright students in her class – both of whom have good diets.
His view is supported by a recent study of data from children in Andra Pradesh. This research suggests that if children from lower income families were helped to achieve the nutritional status of their wealthier peers, the difference in cognitive ability between the two groups would fall by 25%.
Supporting children’s early years
Save the Children is working with partners in Andra Pradesh to improve conditions for children and families during their early years.
Our aim is to help these children get better access to good nutrition, support their learning and provide regular growth monitoring and health check-ups.
We’re also helping to provide pregnant and lactating mothers with improved access to antenatal and postnatal care, and education on breastfeeding and infant nutrition.
The time to act is now
But there’s so much more that must be done to end malnutrition for good. When the G8 meet in the UK on 8 June, world leaders have a historic opportunity to make a major breakthrough in the global fight against hunger.
By taking decisive action to tackle the hunger crisis head on, they could save millions of children’s lives each year, and give many millions more the chance to truly thrive.