Nourished tummies mean flourishing potential – why cultivating young minds matters.

Leveraging the power of nutrition to drive the potential of young minds. By Mandy Murphy, General Manager, Foods Category at PepsiCo South Africa

by Tia

A powerful but sometimes underestimated force in helping decide where many young South Africans will one day end up after they leave school is, access to nutrition.

As educators, parents and the government strive to unlock the full potential of every child during their years at school, we must recognise the profound effects of nourishment on cognitive development, which in turn has a direct impact on academic performance in school-going children.

Anecdotal theories have always suggested that a hearty breakfast was key to a productive work or school day. According to the Human Appetite Research Unit at the University of Leeds in the UK, this belief was solidified with findings that children who ate breakfast (specifically within the confines of a school feeding programme) received the following benefits:

  1. They had better math and reading scores
  2. They were less likely to miss a class
  3. Their problems with discipline decreased

As a leading food and beverage company, we at PepsiCo South Africa, believe we have an important responsibility to translate scientific knowledge into tangible solutions that help support academic success. Our school breakfast nutrition programme, which we launched in 2015 in partnership with the Department of Basic Education, provides 35 000 children with a nutritious breakfast every school day, at 35 schools located in disadvantaged communities, in seven of the country’s nine provinces.

The impact of our schools feeding programme extends far beyond the realm of nutrition. For many children, particularly those from vulnerable communities, access to nourishing meals at schools is a lifeline. In turn, it can help support the likelihood of academic progress and positively contribute to food security and promoting healthy eating habits from a young age.

But more than just filling tummies, is the importance of the quality of nutrition included in these breakfasts. There is much evidence to be found that indicates that wholegrain food consumption (and milk) reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, but just how many people are aware of this and, more importantly, how many of them know what wholegrains even are?

In a recent study we conducted in partnership with the University of Pretoria we found that although 64% of respondents were confident of their wholegrain knowledge, most selected the incorrect definitions of wholegrains. Similarly, whilst 67% thought they were consuming enough wholegrains, 62% underestimated the recommended level of consumption. In summary, knowledge regarding wholegrain food attributes and the health benefits of wholegrain consumption was generally poor.

Overall, our commitment to nourishing minds goes beyond our breakfast programme at schools. We not only help provide healthy and nutritious breakfasts to children where we can, but we consider it our responsibility to broadly share our research findings and nutritional knowledge, such as the findings of the study mentioned above.  We partner with local stakeholders, nonprofit organisations and government to implement initiatives that address food security and promote nutrition awareness. By engaging parents, caregivers and community leaders, we aim to create a ripple effect of positive change.

As we look to the future, PepsiCo South Africa remains steadfast in its commitment to promoting holistic well-being through nourishment. We will continue to innovate, collaborate and advocate for initiatives in this regard.

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