A group of leading authors including Julia Donaldson is highlighting new research that malnutrition leaves children struggling to read and write.
England’s children’s laureate backs a global study that suggests children who are badly malnourished are 20% more likely to misread simple sentences.
The Save the Children report on 7,300 eight-year-olds says quality schooling can be cancelled out by malnourishment.
A quarter of the world’s children are thought to be stunted by malnutrition.
The Gruffalo author is joined by Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman, David Walliams and others in raising concerns about the connection between malnourishment and poor literacy levels ahead of the G8 global nutrition summit in London on 8 June.
She says: “The devastating impact of malnutrition shouldn’t be underestimated. It stunts a child’s development, sapping the strength of their minds as well as their body, depriving them of the chance to be able to read or write a simple sentence.
“Leaders attending this summit have a golden opportunity to stop this. They must invest more funding to tackle malnutrition if we are to stop a global literacy famine.”
The long-term consequences of child malnutrition for health and resilience to disease are well established. But this research, carried out by the University of Oxford for the charity, presents new evidence that for the first time identifies the impact of malnutrition on educational outcomes across a range of countries.
The researchers followed children in four countries – Ethiopia, India, Peru and Pakistan – throughout their childhood, interviewing and testing them at key points in their lives to determine their educational abilities, confidence, hopes and aspirations.
The study suggests children who are malnourished at the start of life are severely disadvantaged in their ability to learn.
As well as the lower basic literacy abilities, stunted children score 7% lower on maths tests and are 12% less likely to be able to write a simple sentence at the age of eight compared with non-stunted children.
They are also 13% less likely to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school.
Save the Children 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.
“We have made huge progress in tackling child deaths, but having a quarter of the world’s children at risk of underperforming at school will have grave consequences for the fight to end global poverty.”