Mil­lions of SA chil­dren hun­gry, un­able to thrive

The Sunday Independent - - METRO - ROLAND MPOFU [email protected]

CHIL­DREN con­tinue to bear the brunt of poverty in the coun­try, with mil­lions of them ex­posed to hunger daily. A re­cent re­port by the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s Chil­dren’s In­sti­tute paints a grim pic­ture of more than 6 mil­lion chil­dren go­ing hun­gry, stunt­ing their po­ten­tial to thrive.

Re­act­ing to the 2018 SA Child Gauge, di­eti­cians said mal­nu­tri­tion has a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment and growth, and food in­se­cu­rity and mal­nu­tri­tion are linked to dis­ease ex­po­sure.

A di­eti­cian in pri­vate prac­tice, Kathy Snoeck Henke­mans, pointed out that even if a child con­sumes enough kilojoules to sur­vive, this does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that they will get enough of the es­sen­tial mi­cronu­tri­ents their bod­ies re­quire, which in turn ex­poses them to dis­eases.

“In­ad­e­quate food con­sump­tion in­creases a child’s risk of in­fec­tious dis­eases such as malaria, measles, per­sis­tent di­ar­rhoea and pneu­mo­nia, which can keep the body from ab­sorb­ing ad­e­quate food… Hunger re­duces a child’s mo­tor skills, ac­tiv­ity level and mo­ti­va­tion to ex­plore the en­vi­ron­ment,” said Henke­mans.

An­other di­eti­cian, Lila Bruk, said: “A de­fi­ciency of en­ergy and pro­tein can lead to a con­di­tion called maras­mus, which is char­ac­terised by an ex­treme wasted and ema­ci­ated ap­pear­ance. Also a de­fi­ciency of pro­tein alone can lead to kwash­iorkor which is char­ac­terised by low al­bu­min lev­els in the blood.

“Vi­ta­min and min­eral de­fi­cien­cies can also have ex­treme ef­fects on var­i­ous as­pects of the child’s health, in­clud­ing poor growth, poor brain de­vel­op­ment (and in ex­treme cases men­tal re­tar­da­tion), poor bone health, weak­ened im­mune sys­tem, vi­sion im­pair­ment, rick­ets, mus­cle weak­ness, blood clot­ting dis­or­ders, dry skin, loss of ap­petite and di­ges­tive dis­or­ders. It is there­fore es­sen­tial that a child’s nutri­tion is op­ti­mised – es­pe­cially in the first few years of life.”

Mean­while, De­part­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion spokesper­son Eli­jah Mh­langa said they feed 9.8 mil­lion pupils a day at schools. “The meals are an im­por­tant in­ter­ven­tion by the gov­ern­ment, as most of the chil­dren would not have a meal were it not for the School Nutri­tion Pro­gramme,” said Mh­langa.

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