Chronically Malnourished Children are 20 Percent Less Literate, says Save the Children Report

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New Research Shines Spotlight on Far-Reaching Effects of Chronic Child Hunger Ahead of G8 Global Nutrition Summit

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Poor nutrition limits children's ability to learn and to earn, says Save the Children report.
Poor nutrition limits children's ability to learn and to earn, says Save the Children report.

WESTPORT, Conn. (May 27, 2013) — Chronically malnourished children are on average nearly 20 percent less literate than those who have a nutritious diet, according to ground-breaking new research released today by Save the Children.

In the study, Save the Children sheds new light on how missing out on nutritious food can impact a child's cognitive development, and its far-reaching effects on economic growth. Recent findings suggest that the global economic impact of malnutrition could be up to $125 billion.

The Food for Thought report comes just 10 days before the Nutrition for Growth summit in London in advance of this year's G8, where world leaders from both developing and donor countries are called upon to commit to more leadership and funding to transform the lives of millions of malnourished children. Despite enormous progress in other areas - such as halving the number of child deaths over the last two decades – Save the Children says malnutrition is acting as an Achilles heel to development and that momentum will stall if the world fails to tackle the condition. The U.S. government is expected to come to London with robust funding for nutrition and a concrete, measurable plan to tackle the problem, including efforts to reform U.S. food aid policy that would feed 2-4 million more children at no extra cost.

Poor nutrition reduces children's ability to learn and to earn

The research shows that not having a nutritious diet can severely impair a child's ability to read and write a simple sentence and answer basic math questions correctly – regardless of the amount and quality of schooling they received.

"A quarter of the world's children are suffering the effects of chronic malnutrition. Poor nutrition in the early years is driving a literacy and numeracy crisis in developing countries and is also a huge barrier to further progress in tackling child deaths," said Carolyn Miles, Save the Children CEO and President.

"Improving the nutritional status of children and women in the crucial 1,000-day window – from the start of a woman's pregnancy until her child's second birthday – could greatly increase a children's ability to learn and to earn," said Miles. "World leaders gathering in London on June 8th must commit to concrete actions to tackle malnutrition in those critical 1,000 days, and invest in the future of our children."

The research was based on studies of thousands of children in four countries (Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam), and found that at the age of eight, children who are stunted due to chronic malnutrition are 19 percent more likely to make a mistake reading a simple sentence like "I like dogs" or "The sun is hot" than they would have been expected to do had they not been stunted.

Stunted children are 12.5 percent more likely to make a mistake writing a simple sentence and do 7 percent worse answering simple math questions like "What is 8 minus 3?" than they would have been expected to do had they not been stunted.

Undernourished children could earn up to 20 percent less as adults

Save the Children's report also highlights the huge economic cost of chronic malnutrition. Malnourished children could earn as much as 20 percent less in adulthood.

Despite being one of the most cost effective forms of development assistance, spending on nutrition programs currently amounts to just 0.3 per cent of global development spending. Any investment now, the report says, would be a down payment on future prosperity.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.