Save the Children Canada

Save the Children Canada

May 27, 2013 19:00 ET

Chronic Child Malnutrition Has Economic Impact, Reports Save the Children

- Report comes ahead of G8 nutrition summit on 8th June in London to be attended by countries from the G8 and developing world

- Findings suggest economic impact of malnutrition could be up to $125bn

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 27, 2013) - Chronically malnourished children are on average nearly 20% less literate than those who have a nutritious diet, according to ground-breaking new research out today.

In the study, Save the Children sheds new light on how missing out on nutritious food can impact on 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 ten days before a global nutrition summit in London in advance of this year's G8 where world leaders from both developing and donor countries must commit to more leadership and funding to transform the lives of millions of children affected by malnutrition. Despite enormous progress in other areas - such as a halving in the number of child deaths over the last two decades - the charity says malnutrition is acting as an Achilles heel to development and that momentum will stall if the world fails to tackle the condition.

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 maths questions correctly - regardless of the amount and quality of schooling they have received.

"It is well known that malnutrition is an underlying cause of mortality in children under five. What is less known is the chronic impact of malnutrition. Poor nutrition is a leading driver of the literacy and numeracy crisis in developing countries." said Patricia Erb, President and CEO of Save the Children.

"A quarter of the world's children are suffering the effects of chronic malnutrition, putting millions of young lives at risk. Canada is the leading donor for global nutrition, something that should make us proud. When world leaders gather for the G8 in London on June 8th Canada must continue its leadership in the face of this crisis and tackle the scourge of malnutrition for good."

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

  • "When I was going to school I used to struggle with lessons because I had often gone without any food." Gatluak, 10, South Sudan
  • "Those children who come to school after having their breakfast do well. This is difficult for me as I don't get enough to eat." Shambel, 12, Ethiopia

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

Despite being one of the most cost effective forms of development assistance, spending on nutrition programmes 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.

For a copy of the report, please visit:

Notes for Editors:

• The UK and Brazilian governments will host a nutrition summit in London on 8th June to coincide with this year's G8.

• The scale of the global literacy crisis is well documented. In the latest assessment of global education, UNESCO's Global Monitoring Report found that as many as 250 million primary school aged children worldwide are unable to read or write by the time they reach grade 4.

• Save the Children has undertaken new analysis to estimate the costs to the global economy of the reduced potential that results from children being malnourished. The analysis estimates that stunted children earn 20% less in later life than non-stunted children. This is a much more conservative estimate than the 66% used by the Copenhagen Consensus panel, which was based on the most robust available longitudinal study to investigate the economic impacts of stunting. Our estimate of a 20% reduction in earnings is in line with other previous estimates of the impact of malnutrition on wages.

• Save the Children applies these estimated losses of income, on a country by country basis, to predicted per capita incomes. For all countries where data is available from the Euromonitor disposable income dataset, we have used this as an estimate of future earnings. Where income data is not available for countries, a proxy is created using the ratio of GNI per capita (working population - from the World Bank World Development Indicators) to disposable income for countries at the same income classification. We then calculate the lost earning potential for those children under 5 who are currently stunted. The results of this analysis suggest that by the time today's stunted children reach working age, they will cost the global economy $125bn overall.

• The one in four of the world's children are stunted figure is from (M de Onis, M Blossne and E Borghi, (2011) 'Prevalence of stunting among pre-school children 1990-2020', Growth Assessment and Surveillance Unit, Public Health Nutrition, 2011, Jul 14:1-7).

• In developing countries this figure is believed to be as high as one in three (R E Black, L H Allen, Z A Bhutta, et al (2008) 'Maternal and child undernutrition: global and regional exposures and health consequences', The Lancet, 2008, Jan 19, 371 (9608), 243-60).

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