Millions of SA children hungry, unable to thrive
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.