Malnutrition rises despite social grants

A diet of pap and bread stunts the physical and mental growth of children in poor families. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

A diet of pap and bread stunts the physical and mental growth of children in poor families. Credit: Delwyn Verasamy, M&G.

South Africa’s children are bearing the brunt of increasing food prices – and the effects may be permanent.

More than one in five children in South Africa are stunted because of malnutrition, according to the Global Nutrition Report 2015 released on Friday.

Experts warn that this will get worse as food prices rise.

Childhood stunting is the significant impairment of a child’s growth. The child is very short compared with their population and age average because of malnutrition or chronic disease.

“South Africa is one of 12 countries in the world [where data was available] where stunting rates went up in the millennium development goal period,” says Sheryl Hendriks, the director of the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing at the University of Pretoria.

This occurred despite South Africa having a strong social grant system and dozens of food security programmes.

The institute hosted the report’s launch as part of the department of science and technology and the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) Centre of Excellence for Food Security.

“Physical stunting is only one aspect. There is also mental [cognitive] stunting, and that has long-term consequences,” Hendriks says.

Stunting, once it has manifested itself, is considered irreversible, she adds. The report also assesses wasting, overweight children under five, exclusive breastfeeding of infants, and adult obesity. Although South Africa is “on course” to reduce wasting from severe malnutrition, only 8% of women exclusively breast-feed, something that is linked to improved child health.

But the data used is problematic: the stunting and wasting data is from 2008, the breast-feeding data from 2003, and there is no data for the prevalence of overweight children under five or birth weight data. There is more up-to-date data available in the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was published in 2013, but that refers only to stunting, which is in line with the Global Nutrition Report 2015.

Lus for more? Read the original at the Mail&Guardian.

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild is an award-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didn't work and she is now the Science Editor at the Mail&Guardian. Sarah writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between. In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africa’s Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars. In 2013, she was awarded overall winner of the Pan-African Siemens Profile Awards for excellence in science journalism.

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