Early-stage primary school children attending a school in the Malawian School Feeding Program (SFP) have better reversal learning and lean muscle mass growth than those attending a non-SFP school
Nkhoma, O.W.W.; Duffy, M.E.; Cory-Slechta, D.A.; Davidson, P.W.; McSorley, E.M.; Strain, J.J.; O'Brien, G.M.
Journal of Nutrition 143(8): 1324-1330
ISSN/ISBN: 0022-3166 PMID: 23803471 DOI: 10.3945/jn.112.171280
In developing countries, schoolchildren encounter a number of challenges, including failure to complete school, poor health and nutrition, and poor academic performance. Implementation of school feeding programs (SFPs) in less developed countries is increasing and yet there is mixed evidence regarding their positive effects on nutrition, education, and cognition at the population level. This study evaluated cognitive and anthropometric outcomes in entry-level primary school children in Malawi with the aim of generating evidence for the ongoing debate about SFPs in Malawi and other developing countries. A total of 226 schoolchildren aged 6-8 y in 2 rural Malawian public primary schools were followed for one school year. Children attending one school (SFP school) received a daily ration of corn-soy blend porridge, while those attending the other (non-SFP school) did not. Baseline and post-baseline outcomes included the Cambridge Neurological Test Automated Battery cognitive tests of paired associate learning, rapid visual information processing and intra-extra dimensional shift, and anthropometric measurements of weight, height, and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC). At follow-up, the SFP subcohort had a greater reduction than the non-SFP subcohort in the number of intra-extra predimensional shift errors made (mean 18.5 and 24.9, respectively; P-interaction = 0.02) and also showed an increase in MUAC (from 16.3 to 17.0; P-interaction <0.0001). The results indicate that the SFP in Malawi is associated with an improvement in reversal learning and catch-up growth in lean muscle mass in children in the SFP school compared with children in the non-SFP school. These findings suggest that the Malawian SFP, if well managed and ration sizes are sustained, may have the potential to improve nutritional and cognitive indicators of the most disadvantaged children.