Malnutrition stunting kids’ growth
Mothers urged to exclusively breastfeed children for the first six months of life
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.