British Journal of Nutrition

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

Nutritional and socio-economic determinants of cognitive function and educational achievement of Aboriginal schoolchildren in rural Malaysia

Hesham M. Al-Mekhlafia1a2 c1, Mohammed A. Mahdya1a2, Atiya A. Sallama3, W. A. Ariffina4, Abdulsalam M. Al-Mekhlafia1, Adel A. Amrana5 and Johari Surina1

a1 Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

a2 Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine, Sana'a University, Sana'a, Yemen

a3 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

a4 Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

a5 Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Jalan Raja Muda Abdul Aziz, 50300 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Abstract

A community-based cross-sectional study was carried out among Aboriginal schoolchildren aged 7–12 years living in remote areas in Pos Betau, Pahang, Malaysia to investigate the potential determinants influencing the cognitive function and educational achievement of these children. Cognitive function was measured by intelligence quotient (IQ), while examination scores of selected school subjects were used in assessing educational achievement. Blood samples were collected to assess serum Fe status. All children were screened for soil-transmitted helminthes. Demographic and socio-economic data were collected using pre-tested questionnaires. Almost two-thirds (67·6 %) of the subjects had poor IQ and most of them (72·6 %) had insufficient educational achievement. Output of the stepwise multiple regression model showed that poor IQ was significantly associated with low household income which contributed the most to the regression variance (r2 0·059; P = 0·020). Low maternal education was also identified as a significant predictor of low IQ scores (r2 0·042; P = 0·043). With educational achievement, Fe-deficiency anaemia (IDA) was the only variable to show significant association (r2 0·025; P = 0·015). In conclusion, the cognitive function and educational achievement of Aboriginal schoolchildren are poor and influenced by household income, maternal education and IDA. Thus, effective and integrated measures to improve the nutritional and socio-economic status of rural children would have a pronounced positive effect on their education.

(Received April 19 2010)

(Revised December 01 2010)

(Accepted February 21 2011)

(Online publication April 15 2011)

Correspondence:

c1 Corresponding author: Dr Hesham Al-Mekhlafi, fax +60 3 79764754, email halmekhlafi@yahoo.com

Footnotes

Abbreviations: IDA, Fe-deficiency anaemia; IQ, intelligence quotient; STH, soil-transmitted helminthes; TS, total scores of the three school subjects

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