Sunday, August 08, 2004
I fixed the link to the Economist article on malnourished a couple of posts down. I will summarize it below, but really you should read it yourself.
It recounts the story of a primary school in Malawi, Africa that began a free lunch program in 1999. School enrollment immediately doubled, largely from increased enrollments from families who previously did not send their children to school. "These families were so poor that the long-term benefits of education seemed unattractive when set against the short-term gain of sending children out to gather firewood or help in the fields. One plate of porridge a day completely altered the calculation." Interestingly enough, even when much more students from poorer families were enrolled ("Anywhere in the world, poor kids tend to perform worse than their better-off classmates.") test scores improved significantly. "Better nutrition makes for brighter children. Most immediately, well-fed children find it easier to concentrate. More crucially, though, more and better food helps brains grow and develop."
Worldwide, the proportion of people severely malnourished is decreasing. But much work remains to be done. "Malnutrition is the largest single contributor to disease, according to the UN's standing committee on nutrition. Hunger weakens the immune system."
"Sadly, the battle against hunger is harder to win than it should be. Food shortages tend to occur in countries with callous, despotic rulers. That is why a 14-year-old male North Korean refugee is on average 25cm shorter than his South Korean peer. In the long term, economic growth and improved agricultural technology offer the surest cure for malnutrition."
The article then goes on to suggest some quick, inexpensive, fixes such as iodizing salt, fortifying flour with iron, vitamin A supplements, breastfeeding, educating women, etc...
Here's the money paragraph:
"Many of the things that would ease hunger are worth doing anyway. Policies that promote economic growth or better education would be desirable even if they had no impact on nutrition. Democracy and freedom of speech are attractive in and of themselves. But it is also worth noting that rich, well-educated countries never go hungry, and that no democratic country with a free press, no matter how poor it may be, has ever suffered a famine. Unfettered reporters provide early warnings, and accountable governments know they have to respond to emergencies. The recent crushing of the independent media in Zimbabwe is one reason why the World Food Program expects trouble this year."
Read the whole article. It is worth your time.