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May 28, 2013 12:00 am
Being malnourished in the womb causes deficiencies in cognitive development that will reduce a child’s future earning potential by 20 per cent and is projected to cost the global economy $125bn by 2030, a leading charity has warned.
Research by Save the Children on infants in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam has found that those who do not receive the necessary nutrients in the first 1,000 days of life – from conception until their second birthday – suffer from developmental brain deficiencies that hold back their learning ability regardless of the quality of their schooling. Unless treated, the charity says, this risks causing a serious “brake” on progress in emerging economies.
According to the study, which monitored 3,000 children, those who were malnourished scored 7 per cent lower on maths tests and were 19 per cent less likely to be able to read a simple sentence by the time they were eight, compared with their non-malnourished peers. They were also 12 per cent less likely to be able to write a simple sentence and 13 per cent less likely to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school.
The long-term result of these educational difficulties is an estimated 20 per cent drop in future earning potential, which will translate into a $125bn loss to the global economy by the time these children reach adulthood.
Brendan Cox, director of policy and advocacy at Save the Children, said the problems of malnutrition had been “under-recognised and under-appreciated” by countries that have traditionally traded on agriculture or lower-skilled sectors of the economy.
“People who are stunted would be able to get through a basic education but as these countries develop they will need to skill up their workforces and that requires more people moving forward to tertiary education,” he said. “Malnutrition means there’s the possibility of a really hard stop to a population’s skill levels and capacity rates.”
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The findings come ahead of a global nutrition summit to be held in London in the run-up to the G8 leaders’ summit. According to Save the Children, progress in tackling malnutrition has been pitifully slow over the past two years compared with other issues highlighted by the Millennium Development Goals. The charity’s development index calculates that overall progress on improving child education has been 32 per cent and child health 23 per cent, but nutrition has only improved 13 per cent since the mid-1990s.
Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said having a quarter of the world’s children at risk of underperforming at school would have “grave consequences” for the fight to end global poverty and urged G8 participants to take action.
“World leaders must take the opportunity to change this in London on June 8 and commit to tackle the scourge of malnutrition for good,” Mr Forsyth said. “We want to see funding for countries suffering the highest burden so that millions of children’s lives can be transformed.”
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