The value of a plate of food to build confident kids

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, absolute levels of hunger and poverty are the most dramatic issues when it comes to addressing inequality, which in turn is a threat to economic growth. The fact that 3.2 million of South Africa’s children go to school hungry each day serves as a strident call to the nation that achieving one of the cornerstones of our democracy – social equality – will continue to pose a severe challenge unless the cycles of hunger and poverty are addressed.

Research indicates that children who are not adequately nourished risk failing to reach their developmental potential, including socio-emotional abilities that are strongly linked to academic achievement and economic productivity. In South Africa, the poorest 40% of the population, which includes a staggering 4 million children under the age of 6 years old, are 2.8 times more likely to suffer the long-term effects of malnutrition compared to those living in the richest 10% of our homes. Poor health and education go hand in hand, and childhood malnutrition can ultimately limit job prospects and reduce future earnings by at least 20%.

KFC Public Affairs Director for Africa, Thabisa Mkhwanazi, says that the evidence of how hunger can affect a child’s social well being is significant, and concerning in terms of its potential long-term affect. The social side effects of hunger in children include feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem and even depression. Mkhwanazi says, “Childhood is a critical period for social and neurocognitive development, which are linked to improved health and success in adulthood. From a young age, hungry children already begin displaying signs of poor social interaction with their peers, compared to children who are not hungry. Hungry children appear to be far more reserved, and don’t play as other children play. Conversely, children who don’t worry about food are more confident and better adjusted than their hungry counterparts.”

The solution, says Mkhwanazi, is as straightforward as providing a child with adequate nutrition. “Having good nutrition has been seen to promote positive social behavior in early childhood and is a good prediction of the child developing into a healthy and subsequently more confident young adult who can actively contribute to the well-being of themselves and others.”

Mkhwanazi says that recognizing the links between poverty, hunger and equality is a significant step in helping address those often neglected issues, which are impeding the country’s long-term economic outlook. “People would seldom link South Africa’s economic potential to a plate of food. But it becomes critical when considering how to equip our future generations with the social tools they need to reach an adulthood in which they are aware of their own potential and can contribute to a skilled and dynamic workforce. At Add Hope, we’ve seen how hope can be stronger than hunger. Putting a plate of food in front of a child gives them the opportunity to believe that they can be anything they choose to be.”

To find out more about Add Hope, visit www.addhope.co.za #AddHope