Quarter of world's children at risk of under-performing at school

Missing out on a nutritious diet can severely damage a child’s ability to read and write simple sentences and answer basic maths questions correctly, our new report, Food for Thought, reveals. On average, these children are 20% less literate than their peers - regardless of the amount and quality of schooling the child receives.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

This has dire consequences for those children’s futures and also for economic growth in poorer countries.

Children malnourished in their first two years suffer irreversible damage. They grow up smaller and weaker and their brains may not develop fully: a condition known as stunting.


These children could earn up to 20 per cent less in adulthood, while our findings suggest that hunger could cost the global economy £82 billion a year.

The findings come just 10 days before a hunger summit in London on 8 June, taking place in the run-up to this year’s G8 Summit where world leaders could provide the funding necessary to transform the lives of millions of children affected by hunger.

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Our ground-breaking research for Food for Thought was based on studies of thousands of children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. It found that a stunted 8-year-old is 19% more likely to make a mistake reading a simple sentence such as “I like dogs” than a well-nourished child of the same age.

Chronically malnourished children  are also 7% less likely to answer simple maths questions like “What is 8 minus 3?” correctly.

With an estimated quarter of the world’s children stunted, the new findings point to a literacy and numeracy crisis in the developing world directly driven by poor nutrition.

Download our infographic on the devastating impact of malnutrition on children's futures.

Worst fears

Our chief executive Justin Forsyth said: “These findings confirm our very worst fears – that poor nutrition is capable of seriously damaging a child’s life chances before he or she even sets foot in a classroom.

“Having a quarter of the world’s children at risk of under-performing at school will have grave consequences for the fight to end global poverty.

“World leaders must take the opportunity to change this in London on 8 June and commit to tackle the scourge of malnutrition for good. We want to see funding for countries suffering the highest burden so that millions of children’s lives can be transformed.”

Despite being one of the most cost-effective forms of development assistance, nutrition programmes currently receive just 0.3% of global development spending. Any investment now, the report says, would be a down payment on future prosperity.


Top children’s authors back our campaign

Top children's authors – including Julia Donaldson, creator of The Gruffalo, Michael Morpurgo and Philip Pullman – have warned malnutrition leaves children struggling to read or write.

More than 25 best-loved children’s authors and illustrators are calling on G8 leaders to step up their efforts to tackle hunger around the world. Find out more.

And mummy blogger Lindsay Atkins adds her voice

Two of YouTube’s biggest names – Lindsay Atkin @liliesarelike and her son Charlie McDonnell @coollike – travelled to Tanzania to find out what can be done to end the global hunger crisis which kills 260 children every hour.