All of us know that eating healthy is essential for the proper development of mind and body. The importance of good nutrition especially becomes more crucial when we think about children. Children require good nutrition for the proper physical growth, working of organs and cognitive plus neurological development. In addition to these, a healthy diet also helps in socio-economic development and healthy growth of children.
On the other hand, lack of getting adequate nutrition for a long period can lead to growth issues in children. Previous research has linked poverty and malnutrition to smaller brain volumes, social withdrawal, poor writing-reading skills and delayed physical growth in children. It is worrying to know that around 159 million children across the world under age five were stunted (not growing taller according to age) and another 50 million were wasted (not gaining enough weight for height) in 2014. Stunting can delay motor development, impair cognitive function and affect academic performance. Similarly, wasting in children, an aftereffect of severe food shortage, can even lead to death.
Similarly, nutrition has a direct link with education. Nutrition and education, in a way, are very closely related. Good nutrition can help improve behaviour, learning, school attendance and concentration. Nutrition for children includes micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and macronutrients like carbohydrates, protein and fat. A deficiency of any of these nutrients can lead to adverse health outcomes including death. Iron deficiency can impede cognitive development; vitamin A deficiency weakens immunity and increases death risk from diarrhoea, measles and malaria. Iodine deficiency can damage the brain and lead to mental retardation. Zinc deficiency can leave a negative impact on growth and immunity.
It was in an effort to tackle all these problems the idea of school lunch programmes was born. The main aim was to help improve the nutritional status of children. But the school lunch programmes have also helped hold children back to school. Apart from these, school lunch programmes also help support local farmers and provide food security to children during crisis. Currently several countries across the world including Brazil, Italy, USA, Australia, France, Greece, Kenya, Korea, Finland, Japan, India and Spain have school lunch programmes.
In India, apart from The Government of India, The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a NGO also serves mid-day meals in schools. The organisation serves freshly cooked nutritious meals to over 1.4 million children every day.
Now we know how nutrition influences education and the role of school lunch programmes in providing nutrition for children. Next is what we can do to improve lives of millions of undernourished children around us. Yes, there are lots of options – including volunteering, fundraising or donating to the charity organisations who work for the welfare of these school children.
One can get involved today and help transform the world into a better place for children.