Mal­nu­tri­tion stunt­ing kids’ growth

Moth­ers urged to ex­clu­sively breast­feed chil­dren for the first six months of life

The Witness - - NEWS - KERUSHUN PIL­LAY • kerushun.pil­lay@wit­ness.co.za

NEARLY a quar­ter of South Africa’s chil­dren from birth to three years old suf­fer stunt­ing, brought on by mal­nu­tri­tion.

In­fants also suf­fer some of the low­est rates of con­tin­ued breast­feed­ing in the crit­i­cal first six months of life glob­ally, lead­ing to high rates of in­fant dis­ease and mor­tal­ity.

An in­ter­na­tional study by Save The Chil­dren, en­ti­tled “Stolen Child­hoods”, added that about 15% of chil­dren from birth to 14 years old are stunted.

A diet ex­pert told The Wit­ness that poor de­vel­op­ment due to stunt­ing ul­ti­mately com­pro­mises a child’s aca­demic per­for­mance.

The re­port ranked 172 coun­tries on fac­tors such as child mor­tal­ity, rate of school drop­outs, child stunt­ing and child preg­nancy. South Africa was placed at 103. It said that 23% of chil­dren from birth to three are stunted.

“Se­vere acute mal­nu­tri­tion is still ev­i­dent in South Africa, which is the worst form of un­der­nu­tri­tion.

“In some parts of the coun­try, sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of young chil­dren who have [se­vere acute mal­nu­tri­tion] are still dy­ing due to lack of ap­pro­pri­ate screen­ing,” it said.

Diet ex­pert at the Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan Univer­sity Dr Liana Steen­ kamp said many chil­dren in the coun­try are born stunted.

“They are born with rel­a­tively low birth weight. The num­ber varies from province to province, but that’s about 15% of chil­dren and that is very dif­fi­cult to re­verse.”

She said this is caused by moth­ers who them­selves are un­der­weight or re­ceive poor nutri­tion.

Alarm­ingly, less than 10% of South African moth­ers con­tinue to breast­feed to six months, the re­port said.

Steenkamp said: “Moth­ers are in­tro­duc­ing food when the child is not yet ready. [Chil­dren] are in­tro­duced to a sta­ple diet with low nu­tri­tional value, like ce­re­als.

“A lot of the time it’s be­cause moth­ers need to re­turn to work. Em­ploy­ers aren’t un­der­stand­ing and don’t give them time off.”

She said stunted chil­dren are con­ demned to per­form­ing poorly at school.

“They have poor skele­tal growth, and their mo­tor and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment is ham­pered. So they do not per­form op­ti­mally and can go to school aged six or seven and not per­form as well as their peers.”

She said it is dif­fi­cult for some fam­i­lies to pro­vide chil­dren with nu­tri­tious meals be­cause it is ex­pen­sive.

“So they have to have starch­heavy di­ets.”

Steenkamp said the ef­fects of stunt­ing can be re­versed, but that there is not enough ed­u­ca­tion on the mat­ter.

“There needs to be bet­ter an­te­na­tal care and moth­ers need to take the chil­dren for reg­u­lar check­ups be­fore it [lack of nutri­tion] be­comes a prob­lem. They need to know that the child must get ex­clu­sive breast­feed­ing for the first six months.

“We also see poor knowl­edge about good di­ets from par­ents. A child’s lunch­box will just have a packet of chips and all that is is starch and salt, and that’s a huge prob­lem.”

The Wit­ness re­ported last week that South African chil­dren suf­fer one of the high­est mur­der rates in the world.

Nine chil­dren per 100 000 are killed an­nu­aly — 200% higher than the global av­er­age — the pa­per re­ported.

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