SA children’s physical development lagging due to hunger: Thabisa Mkhwanazi

Children being fed red apples as a snack before playtime

Statistics SA shows that poverty figures are on the rise, with more than half of the population living in poverty, most of whom are children and African. 13.8 million people live below the Food Poverty Line – an increase of 2,3 million since 2011. As a result, malnutrition is rife and is having a major impact on the physical, cognitive and social development of our children, locking in lifelong barriers to health, education and future success. Poverty is the leading cause of hunger, but poverty also results from hunger, and we need to do more to break this cycle.

The impact of malnutrition on physical development is acute. According to the Healthy Active Kids SA Report Card released in June, 1 in 5 preschoolers in South Africa have had their physical growth stunted by malnutrition and 74% of children in rural settings are underweight. More than half the primary school children tested in South Africa had below average object control skills, including throwing, kicking, and catching – a major lag in development. Lower scores were most common in girls and in children from low income communities. With motor proficiency linked to so many areas of development, including academic performance, these issues are of major concern.
Simply improving childhood nutrition could cut stunting by 1/3 and reduce physical health issues, from diarrhoea and pneumonia to deaf-mutism. The African Union’s Cost of Hunger in Africa study shows that children achieve up to 3.2 more years of education if not stunted. Well-nourished children develop better gross and fine motor skills and are able to engage in more physical activity, which promotes social connectedness, inclusiveness and gender equality.
The stats tell a staggering story, but what can we do about it? While the National Schools Nutrition Programme and social grants are improving access to food, there is a great need for NGOs, with private and public sector support, to turn the tide on the devastating impact of poor nutrition. Initiatives that channel funds towards feeding children and supporting these NGOs are playing a vital role.
With customer donations and KFC contributions combined amounting to over R400 million since 2009, Add Hope is now able to support 12 national and 125 local NGOs to consistently feed 120 000 children and we want that number to grow. We’re grateful that customer donations have increased during tough times, from R6.2 million in 2010 to R38.6 million in 2016, enabling us to add new beneficiaries including childhood development organisations, children’s homes and school feeding programmes every year. Add Hope is aiming to raise over R5 million in customer donations during October World Hunger Month, which will go towards the overall target of R43 million in customer donations in 2017.

The truth is, our children are bearing the brunt of poverty. Good nutrition is the most important factor in creating a better future for these children, the basic element that can improve physical development and set children up for productive and healthy futures. If South Africa is to succeed, we need to pull together to improve childhood nutrition, giving the next generation hope by unlocking potential and boosting prosperity.

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