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Nutrition: Hospitalization Increasing, Learning Decreasing

NUTRITION: Hospitalization Increasing and Learning Decreasing

A recent New Zealand Herald article (September 19, 2017) by Kirsty Johnston has exemplified what educators in New Zealand have known for years. Child malnutrition is on the rise, and more and more New Zealand children are being hospitalised for nutrient deficiency.

The article accurately portrays the rise in food costs while income levels stay stagnant in the lowest income families. It is these families that suffer the most with malnutrition due to the increasing food prices.

Nutrition however is not only increasing hospitalization, but is also paramount in education. For every child that is hospitalized because of malnutrition there is many more struggling with the effects of malnutrition in our classrooms. From Early childhood Education through primary to high school, breakfast, the food our children eat is long known to a have a lasting impact on educational achievement.

Teachers are feeling the burden of this increasing trend with many using their own money to purchase food and snacks for children. In addition to this the behavioural implications are immense. Children who are hungry cannot concentrate, and they cannot pay attention to the teacher even if they want to. Physiologically their bodies and brains are not able to because their vital organs are using up all their energy for survival - not learning.

Cheaper foods are more highly processed, less nutritional and filled with sugar. The excess of sugary starches, colours and preservatives are wreaking havoc with our children. It leads to shorter attentions spans, fidgety behaviour, impulse control issues, and sleepiness in the classroom. A teacher can only do so much teaching when a child's physical body is not able to learn.

What our children eat nourishes every cell and organ of their body. With education relying so heavily on brain functioning and the signals sent between body and brain, as well as brain hemispheres, the need for nutrient dense nourishment is essential. Without nutrients and vitamins which come from good quality food their bodies cannot do this. Our smallest and most vulnerable members of society cannot achieve in education when there is not the right nutrients coming into their physical bodies.

This lack extended over a period of time reduces the ability and quality of learning. We wouldn't expect a car to work well if we put water in the petrol tank, yet we expect children to learn and behave well when we fill them with innutritious food.

The obese yet nutritionally deficient children surrounding us are everywhere and are suffering. They do not have the power or control to choose what they eat and despite parents' best efforts they are also becoming limited in their choices due to budget constraints.

The breakfast in schools movement helped to alleviate some childhood hunger and behavioural problems within our schools but more is needed. Why as a dairy country do we export our best yet give our own people either substandard quality, or export prices? If we invest in our children, we invest in our future, and we will reap the rewards of a smarter, more productive economy and society.

As a Neuro-Developmental Therapist (INPP), Registered Teacher, and Mother of four children, I call for the tax to be lifted off of fresh fruit and vegetables. I challenge the Government to find a way to reduce the number of childhood obesity cases, and malnutrition in children. I ask that they find a way to help our children and our most vulnerable families choose health, to be ready for learning, and able to have the best start possible. Maybe, just maybe, if we do this our children will be able to buy a fresh fruit salad for $1 or $2 instead of that fizzy drink loaded with empty calories and educational distraction.

If the Government addresses this issue head on our country will see the benefits in reduced hospital bills, reduced educational support workers, and increased educational achievement. I call the New Zealand Government to remove GST on fruit and vegetables for our people. Empower us to choose health. Though this may not be the full answer to our very complex problems, at least we will be making a path forward so that nutritious food is readily available for all New Zealanders.

Sign the petition today at change.org (Feed our Children).


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