Funimfundo Primary in Port Elizabeth participates in this programme, and the teachers and principal have reported that since eating breakfast, there is less absenteeism, less learners who are sick, better concentration in the class and overall the children have more energy.
In South Africa, more than 11 million people go hungry every day and it’s no myth that when temperatures drop in winter, we actually feel hungrier, say dietitians on the eve of World Hunger Day (28 May 2015). And according to the South African Weather Service (SAWS) seasonal forecast, we can expect a colder than usual winter this year.
“In winter, we require more energy to maintain good health,” said Kelly Francis, Kwazulu-Natal-based dietitian. “All self-regulatory systems in the body, such as temperature control, require energy. Exposure to cold weather with improper warm clothing will result in an increased use of food energy for body temperature regulation. This will increase food energy requirements in winter.”
The challenges of hunger are greatest in the morning hours, and this is particularly relevant to children, who do the bulk of their learning before mid-day. A study of children found a significant difference in fatigue levels two hours after breakfast, between breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers. Those children that had not eaten since the night before reported a greater feeling of fatigue at the mid-morning mark of the day. The study also found that eating a breakfast of good nutritional quality can influence blood glucose control and insulin levels significantly enough to prevent disease. Overwhelming evidence supports the impact of breakfast on learning, yet the sad fact is that 1 in 5 children in South Africa are going to school hungry.
The magnitude of hunger in South Africa is not difficult to understand in the face of statistics, which reveal that although household access to food has improved since 2002, it has remained static since 2011 Behind this statistic are many modern-day domestic complications such as, whilst the majority of young children have both parents alive, less than half are living with their parents. Many young children are being looked after by extended family members, and social grants do not always fully trickle down to them. Even in cases of poor yet stable families, the Child Support Grant in 2015 is just R330 per month, which makes keeping a growing child nourished, a challenge. 6 With the poorest 40% of households receiving an income of less than R765 a month and the poorest 20% earning less than R390 per person per month,6 it’s easy to understand why there is little money left to put breakfast on the table.
To help in tackling this big problem, Kellogg is partnering with FoodBank South Africa and First Choice milk in the Breakfast for Better Days™ initiative. Kellogg, together with the partners, as well as with the endorsement of the Department of Basic Education, is dishing up a breakfast of cereal and milk to 25 000 school children every school day in 2015 in four South African provinces. This will go a long way towards lowering the hunger stats.
Many of the principals and teachers of the schools participating in the Breakfast for Better Days™ Initiative have reported that there is only ‘one meal a day’ available at home, for many of their learners. This makes the Kellogg’s project and other similar programmes, vital to young learners, who rely on these meals to fill their energy needs for busy school days.
Eating one meal a day can severely compromise a child’s health, says Francis. “Access to only one meal a day will result in a food intake below what is recommended by the South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines. These guidelines state that a daily intake of fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy and starch is essential for adequate nutrient intake and optimum health.” Furthermore, fasting throughout the night and the school day will result in low levels of glucose available for energy. The brain requires glucose energy for optimal functioning. A breakfast meal will therefore contribute positively to brain energy availability while a child is at school. “Supplementing one family meal via nutrition programmes may be the only hope some children will have of achieving optimal nutrition,” says Francis.
In a survey of principals participating in the Breakfast for Better Days™ Initiative, the majority said that in winter, more of their learners get sick, which ultimately leads to absenteeism and losing out on class time.
The best way to combat winter colds and flu is through good nutrition, which has a positive effect on the immune system. “Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E play a role in immune protection and providing an increased intake of these nutrients will enhance the capacity of the body to fight infection,” says Francis. “This will therefore reduce illness-related absenteeism.”
Breakfast is certainly making its mark at the 43 participating Breakfast for Better Days™ schools, with principals reporting as high as a 30% improvement in winter attendance. “It’s great to see teachers actually being able to teach, and not having to tend to sick children,” said Mrs. Marokone, Principal of Mogobeng Primary School in Gauteng.
“Winter is without a doubt the toughest time of the year for the poor,” says Jack Kruger, Kellogg’s Marketing Category Manager. “Already living under tight budgetary constraints, there is now the additional expense of keeping warm, which can take away from what is already a minimal food budget. We are happy to hear that the breakfasts we are providing are helping kids to stay in school and work towards a brighter future.”
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