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While interviewing a group of parents in Kigamboni, Tanzania, I was surprised that very few mentioned a morning meal as part of their daily routine.

Photo of Jason Rissman
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As a parent, its hard to imagine starting the day without feeding my kids breakfast. In the United States, we often hear the refrain that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. At least in my family, its not just a question of giving our kids a healthy start. It's also about giving the kids the energy to focus on play and avoid the tears and fits that seem to always accompany hunger.

Initiatives like the School Breakfast Program helps school-aged kids in the United States start their days with the nutrition needed to learn. 

Are there programs like this for children under 5 around the world?

To what extent are kids' learning and brain development tied simply to nurtition?



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Photo of An Old Friend

Hi Jason,

Realised that the children in Africa really do suffer with malnutrition and having the Breakfast Program in schools will help bring down malnutrition in their developing days of childhood. But it will also give them a chance to grow as individuals and survive in their tough times. But what initiatives can be put forward to be sure that the children come to school to eat and not leave to help support the family but to eat due to the tough situations they face daily.

Photo of Wojtek Konstanty

Hi Jason,

I think related to your concerns about breakfast are nutritional concerns

From my understanding Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) during the first 6-59 months of life is the most dangerous as the child's brain and immune systems are still developing and sufficient supply of proteins and vitamins is crucial to this growth.

These first 1000 days are the most critical because if a child suffering from SAM does not develop then, his or her growth will be forever stunted and never reach normal levels.

As long as a child is able to receive this nutritious intake in the beginning of life, it will develop fully and even if it suffers from hunger later in life it will not experience such debilitating effects. You can check out more on this post

or these pages

Photo of Jason Rissman

Thanks everyone for your comments, especially Maurizio for all your insights.

Photo of Eric Tucker

Good point, Jason. I can't give you any hard numbers, but we know good nutrition greatly boosts growth and development whereas poor nutrition can leave harmful effects. This is especially true in the first years of life.

Photo of Chioma Ume

Jason, great thought starter! And Maurizio, so interested to hear about your research! I'd be interested to hear more about your pilot - what digital education appliances are you using and what are you hoping to learn?

Photo of Maurizio Bricola

Dear Chioma thanks for expressing your interest in what we @IICD are doing in education in Malawi. Here you can find an article about it:

There are and will be amazing things we hope to learn during this intervention, here below a brief summary of the main 3 objectives:

We hope to improve teachers effectiveness and thereby students performances, unlocking their creativity and nurturing their talents.
Our solution keeps the teacher in control and augments her/his capabilities of interacting with students. We are currently using it with standard 6 and 7 primary school teachers and their pupils.
In many primary schools in Malawi classrooms are overcrowded between 100 to 140 children per classroom. It is extremely difficult for a teacher to be able to provide assistance to so many children. These type of schools have in average low students performances.
Having a device that can be used by a team of 4 to 6 students and it is connected with the one used by the teacher, allows the teacher to interact with her/his classroom in a more effective way. We hope to prove that already after the first school term in January 2015.

We hope to improve parents involvement and show that communities are able to contribute.
Parents of children enrolling in so called "digital classroom" are paying a monthly fee of about 1 euro. This allow the school to provide maintenance and replace the devices once have reached the end of their life cycle (about 2 to 3 years) and also provide a number of scholarships to students can't afford enrolment.

As well we hope to have more insight in hardware production and provide a platform for exploring opportunities of locally producing, assembly, recycling and disposing of hardware and mobile hardware in specific.

Photo of Maurizio Bricola

Hi Janson, nutrition is indeed essential. Unfortunately in some contexts parents might have to choose which of the 3 supposed meals are able to offer to their families. When working in Honduras I interviewed some persons that were living inside and nearby the main garbage collection center in Tegucigalpa. A mother was saying that after his husband was killed in a car accident along the road, she is only feeding her-self and her daughter once a day, mainly in the evenings. I felt very sad.

There have been several initiatives that support food in schools and also studies that mention the correlation between nutrition, poor health conditions and irregular attendance and poor performances. I recently came back from Kenya where I happened to meet with an organization that is working on loans for school meals. Counties government in Kenya are starting to support initiative like free milk in nurseries (see: and
From a report on the status of education in Kenya (source: you can read on page 11 the following:

Nutrition and health can affect attendance. For example, children with poor nutrition, malaria, and intestinal worms may be too sick to attend school. Data from the Kenyan Demographic and Health Survey shows that 20% of Kenyan children are underweight, indicating poor health status.
Micronutrient deficiencies can also hamper children’s cognitive development.
Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are vital to health. Deficiencies affect a third of the global population, especially women and children. Every year across the globe, 2 million children die from lack of vitamin A, zinc, and other nutrients; 18 million babies are born mentally impaired due to lack of iodine deficiency; and 500,000 women die in childbirth due to severe anemia (iron deficiency). In Kenya, according to the Micronutrient Initiative, the Vitamin A deficiency in children 6 to 59 months old is 84.4%, and the iodine deficiency throughout the population is 36.8%. The prevalence of anemia in children 6 to 59 months old is 69%, while the prevalence of anemia in wo
men is 55.5% (Micronutrient Initiative, 2011).
It would be great to find similar data for Tanzania and Ethiopia

We started a pilot with digital educational appliances in Malawi, we run a baseline survey on 300 children of standard 6, when asking them the main causes of absence from school, the most common answer has been: I was sick.