Picture this: sentencing an infant to death or a life shorter than their peers, with poorer cognitive capacity, increased risk for disease, and a reduced ability to learn at school and earn as an adult. This is what over 180 million children under the age of 5 are being subjected to; a life with persistent challenges. These children’s bodies and minds are being limited by stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition.
In comparison to their non-stunted peers, a stunted child will be subjected to various developmental challenges that threaten their life outcomes. Beyond the fact that they will be shorter than their non-stunted peers, stunted children will be 5X more likely to die from diarrhea due to the physiological changes in a stunted body. These children will suffer from impaired brain development with fewer interconnections and smaller brain cells, resulting in impaired function, which leads to significantly reduced learning abilities.
These developmental implications on growth have received far too little attention for far too long. When the critical stages of development occur (utero to 2 years) without the right type and amount of nutrients, the physical and cognitive damage is PERMANENT. The bright side of this is that IT CAN BE PREVENTED– and at a relatively low cost.
This problem can be addressed by providing expectant mothers, newborns, and very young children nutrients including proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, iron and zinc. This approach has been ranked as the most effective way to advance global welfare. Thanks to the leadership of many governments, economic growth in some countries, and the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, there has been progress: prevalence of stunting in the developing world had decreased from 40% in 1990 to 29% in 2008. (http://www.unscn.org/en/scaling_up_nutrition_sun/)
Countries are investing more into national strategies to reduce stunting, but there is more that must be done to correct the poor health outcomes of children who have poor nutritional intakes. Food Aid programs must work at multiple levels to improve the state of family and community food security. After all, if families are food insecure and hunger is an issue, the additional food aid will be shared to provide some food for all family members. Without addressing this fact, there will be no improvement to children’s nutritional status and stunting will still be a nutritional global crisis for millions.
The ideas were originally from an article in TIME-Ideas The Global Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of: Stunting