Effects of vegetables from a school garden, in a school feeding programme, on the school attendance rate and general health of children in a farm school
Mongwa, Grace Kelebogile
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Background Poverty in the rural areas often results in people being unable to buy the necessary food to feed their families and at the end, the children suffer, as they do not get the necessary foodstuffs needed for their development. Workers living in rural or agricultural communities do not have adequate access to basic primary health care facilities. Children need to be immunized and have regular check-ups during their developmental years and this is often lacking in farming communities. Farm workers and their children are also often denied access to other Government services. They are often not informed of services which are available and which will benefit them. Children attend schools without clean drinking water or proper sanitation, putting them at risk of disease. Some children travel far to reach the schools. A lack of state-funded transport from homes hinders access to education in commercial farming areas. Such exhausting conditions adversely affect the ability of these children to adequately participate in activities in the classroom. This results in poor performance, nonattendance or regular absence. Children from families who are dependent on employment on commercial farms for their livelihoods are vulnerable due to low education status of their parents/guardians, low pay, poor working conditions and dependence on the farmer. Project aim The main aim of the project was to investigate the effects of a daily vegetable meal on the health of farm school children. Objective of the study The specific objectives of this study were to evaluate the effects of vegetables in the school feeding programme over a 15 week period on: the school attendance in the experimental and control schools, the prevalence of infections, the occurrence of sores in the school going learners of both the experimental and the control schools. Research setting This study was part of the larger FLAGH (Farm Labour And General Health) programme that was a follow up of the THUSA study. The FLAGH programme consists of a number of different projects and studies mainly aimed at improving the nutritional status and quality of life of black South African farm dwellers in the North-West Province. Two schools in the Rysmierbult district were selected to participate in this study. One of the schools was used as a control school and the other school was used as the intervention (experimental) school. The vegetable garden in the experimental school started in 2003 and in the control school it was started in 2001. In 2004 after the school opened, the garden in the control school was not functional due to some reasons. Therefore the school was used as a control school as the learners were not fed vegetables each day. Subjects A total number of 109 primary school learners between the ages of 6 and 14 years old took part in the study. The intervention school enrolment was 70 learners at the beginning of the study and at week 7 to 15 it was 67, as 3 learners had left school with no reason. The control school enrolment was 42 learners. Study design It was a comparative evaluation intervention study with baseline and end measurements to assess the effects of vegetable gardens in farm schools to supplement the school feeding programme. This was a comparison study of two farms schools. The implementation of vegetable garden projects at schools was one of the interventions aimed at improving the nutritional status of the children. Research Methods Four types of instruments were used in the study namely: anthropometric measures (height and weight) were used to calculate the Body Mass Index (BMI) for age and Z-scores (by age) for all the children (Annexure 11), observation of the occurrence of skin sores and infection (Annexure I), a structured face-to-face interview for learners (Annexure Ill), a questionnaire for teachers to get their views towards the vegetable garden project (Annexure IV). Results The school attendance for the control school was throughout the 15 week intervention period better than the experimental school. Although the anthropometric measurements of learners at baseline in the experimental school differed statistically significantly from those in the control school it was of low practical significance (d<0.5). The learners in the experimental school were more undernourished (Z-score for weight for age: -1.86 and height for age: -1.55) than those in the control school (Z-score for weight for age: -0.99 and height for age: -1.37). Over the 15 week period the children in the control school got more undernourished (Z-score for weight for age: -1.34 and height for age: - 1.44) while the nutrition status of the children in the experimental school improved (Z-score for weight for age: - 1.65 and height for age: - 1.48). No differences in the occurrence of infections in the children were observed between the two schools. However, the results on the occurrence of skin sores indicated a highly significant (p<O.OOI) improvement in the occurrence thereof in the experimental school. Conclusion Malnutrition is still a major problem worldwide and especially in Asia and Africa especially the Sub-Sahara area. There are a number of factors contributing to malnutrition. The underlying factors include access to food, caring practices, health services, the environment and lastly the immediate factors include dietary intake and infection/illness. From the results of this study it seems as if a vegetable meal can improve the nutrition status of learners and it can help to reduce the incidence of skin sores in children. The fact that no improvement in the incidence of infections was measured during this study by the occurrence of symptoms such as colds, flu, coughs and a running nose was observed, might be due to the short period of the intervention (15 weeks) and the small number of children included in the study. Recommendation A multifaceted approach is recommended to improve the nutritional status of learners attending schools in the farming areas. One of these approaches can be to include vegetables in the daily school meal. The study period was too short (15 weeks) to determine an explicit outcome, so it would be more appropriate to extend the study to a longer period.
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