Learners at the Leap Maths and Science School in Mowbray put in a good eight-hour day. Classes at the school, a project of the Shuttleworth Foundation to give disadvantaged kids from local townships access to some top-notch education, run from eight in the morning till five in the afternoon, and there are extra lessons in Langa on Saturday mornings. Leap provides a basic lunch of sandwich, juice and fruit, but feared that learners were starting the long days on empty stomachs and were drained long before the day is out. So the school recently asked UCT's Division of Nutrition and Dietetics to see how well the learners were eating - at school and at home - and to draw up some recommendations, if needed. "We wanted to make absolutely sure our students are not being disadvantaged by issues related to diet," says Principal John Gilmour. The division's 2005 honours class interviewed more than 100 learners, and also took measurements to calculate body-mass index (BMI). They found that about 20% of the learners were underweight, and even the 60% that were in the okay range were clustered towards the lower end of the scale, reports class member Samantha Hentze. The big surprise was the 20% of learners who were either marginally or severely overweight. "It makes for a very interesting and challenging intervention," says UCT lecturer Aila Meyer. Of more concern, though, was that all three groups were lacking key minerals and vitamins such as folic acid, iron, and vitamins A and C. These micronutrients, says Meyer, are vital to growth, learning and immunity, and are particularly important in adolescents. The division has since made a report-back to Leap, and have also run an educational session with learners on their diets.
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