Kids on social grants are less likely to be obese. They also go to school earlier

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Children whose parents or caregivers receive South Africa’s child support grant are less likely to be overweight or suffer from obesity. They’re also more likely to attend pre-school than those whose households don’t get a grant.

These are the key findings from our study, which looked at how children who received the child support grant fared with those who didn’t receive the grant. The study focused on children aged five to 14 years old.

Health, education and an adequate standard of living is central to a child’s development, enabling them to become productive members of society in later years of life.

South Africa’s child support grant is the country’s most successful poverty alleviating intervention. Almost 12 million children live with caregivers who receive R380 a month to meet basic needs. These include access to health care, education and an adequate standard of living.

South Africa’s social security system is one of the most advanced and wide reaching in the developing world, similar in range and impact to Brazil’s cash transfer programme.

A large body of evidence has shown the positive effects of South Africa’s social grants. To determine them, our study looked at two measures among children whose caregivers received the grant: their health in the form of their Body Mass Index (BMI), and their enrolment in education. BMI is the measure of body fat based on weight in relation to height. It can be used as an indicator of obesity – a growing problem in many parts of the world, including South Africa.

We found that children whose caregivers received the grant were more likely to have a normal BMI than those who didn’t and therefore less likely to be overweight or obese. And their caregivers were more likely to enrol them in pre-primary schools than those not receiving the grant.

This adds to the body of knowledge showing that the grant enables caregivers to make healthier food choices and provides them with the means to send their children to school earlier.

Disadvantaged children

Early enrolment in education and obesity are both big challenges in South Africa.

Obesity is not only the manifestation of overeating. It can also be caused by eating food that has poor nutritional value and is high in fats and sugar.

Overweight children have a greater risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease later in life. In South Africa childhood obesity is increasing. More than a quarter of children between the ages of two and 14 years are obese. In our study, 9% of children who received the child support grant were obese compared to 12% who did not.

At the same time, 63% of children younger than 18 live below the poverty line. And close to 30% of children younger than three are stunted. Stunting is a result of under-nutrition, which in turn hampers the way a child’s brain develops.

Research shows that children living in poverty and who are stunted go to school later. Our findings show that children whose caregivers received the child support grant were more likely to enrol in early childhood development programmes.

It also found that the impact of the grant on child health and education was evident despite household circumstances such as income poverty and limited access to basic services.

We analysed data collected as part of the National Income Dynamics Survey. a government funded study that’s repeated every two to three years.

The findings showed that in addition to the child support grant, other factors also influenced children’s development. For example, basic services such as water and electricity were also linked to the early educational enrolment and better child health. This confirms previous research.

Our findings are also in line with studies in Latin America about the benefit of the Brazilian Bolsa Familia – a conditional cash transfer programme that requires families to comply with certain health and education conditions before getting the grant.

Added services are a must

The South African government has highlighted the importance of access to quality early stimulation, education and care for all children. Our research shows that this is becoming a reality for children who receive the child support grant, with likely positive long-term benefits.

On top of this there’s growing evidence that grants reduce poverty and inequality. This is because they enable money to be spent on higher quality food and school related expenses. This means that children stay in school.

Our study also confirms global evidence that social grants need to be accompanied by basic services to ensure that all children are given the opportunity to develop optimally.

Researcher, University of Johannesburg

This story first appeared on The Conversation

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