Associations between selective attention and soil-transmitted helminth infections, socioeconomic status, and physical fitness in disadvantaged children in Port Elizabeth

Socioeconomically deprived children are at increased risk of ill-health associated with sedentary behavior, malnutrition, and helminth infection. The resulting reduced physical fitness, growth retardation, and impaired cognitive abilities may impede children’s capacity to pay attention. The data from the baseline testing showed that children infected with soil-transmitted helminths had lower selective attention, lower school grades and lower grip strength. In a multiple regression model, low selective attention was associated with soil-transmitted helminth infection and low shuttle run performance, whereas higher academic achievement was observed in children without soil-transmitted helminth infection and with higher shuttle run performance. These results provide new insights into the relative importance of different determinants of school children’s selective attention in a disadvantaged setting of South Africa. We found that soil-transmitted helminth infection and lower physical fitness may hamper children’s capacity to pay attention during cognitive tasks, and directly or indirectly impede their academic performance. It is conceivable that poor academic achievement will hinder children from realizing their full potential and disrupt the vicious cycle of poverty and ill health.