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Malnutrition and Indolence – Lessons for Today

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In my previous post I postulated that poor diet in expectant mothers and infants had, in the past, a role in preventing the poor in Ireland from improving their conditions. But can it also explain the lack of aspiration evident among the poor in modern developed economies?

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Concentrated orange juice was provided free of charge to pregnant women and infants in Britain during and after World War II.

The British government during World War II was concerned to ensure that expectant and nursing mothers and infants received proper nutrition despite the food shortages and rationing that characterised the war years and those immediately following. They would have been ignorant of the relationship between diet and brain growth. But they were certainly concerned to prevent diseases, like scurvy, associated with vitamin deficiencies. Concentrated orange juice, cod liver oil, and free school milk all served to ensure that my generation, and our mothers, had access to nutritious foods.

The same wellfare foods were also available to the ‘baby boomer’ generation that followed. And concern for diet informed the decision to provide free meals to school children who met the criteria of a simple means test, and continues to do so throughout the UK.

The first 3 decades after that war were characterised by full employment and the rapid expansion of educational opportunities. The causes of the rise in unemployment in the 1980s were undoubtedly economic. But, whereas in the 1950s & ’60s young people were not only willing, but eager, to seek opportunities for self improvement, through education, training and migration to regions at home and abroad where well rewarded work was available, subsequent generations of the poor seem less inclined to show such initiative. Schemes intended to help are all too often either abused or viewed with resentment.

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Does poor nutrition mean some children’s brains aren’t able to assimilate information?

A woman residing in North America, commenting on my previous post, suggests that similar problems of apathy and even hostility towards formal education exist there, too. The ‘dumming down’ of the school curriculum there, she argues, is not “that students don’t care about education, but that their brains aren’t functioning enough to be able to assimilate the material.”

The effect of non-nutritious additives, fats and sugars in causing such comparatively recent phenomena as ADHD, obesity and diabetes is well understood. Are we missing a trick in not ensuring that expecting and nursing mothers and infants receive the kind of foods that will maximise the ability of those infants to develop their full potential as human beings?

Some politicians and commentators still hold to the view that the poor are to blame for their own conditions. They make a distinction between those they refer to as the ‘deserving poor’ and those they regard as ‘undeserving‘. Could it be that people who fall into this latter group are suffering from the kind of dietary deficiencies that have been shown to be responsible for an apathetic attitude, low IQ and an inability to take action to lift themselves out of poverty?

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