Malnutrition an impedement to Social Cohesion and active citizenry….

Good nutrition for young children is essential for their immediate wellbeing, but also for the impact it has on a child’s long-term physical and mental development. Good Nutrition influences performance at school, and as an adult it affects how productive you are in the labour market

Forms of Malnutrition such as stunting, wasting, and obesity affect how children grow. This in turn, affects how children interact with others and contribute to the positive development of a society. The Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates 2019 edition by UNICEF, WHO and World Bank Group found that Malnutrition rates remain alarming as stunting is declining too slowly and wasting still impacts the lives of far too many young children. The report states that globally, approximately 149 million children under 5 suffer from stunting, and there are over 40 million overweight children. The edition notes that Africa and Asia bear the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition.

Focusing on South Africa…
As a nation grappling with inequality and other socio-economic issues such as poverty, unemployment, and corruption, South Africa is also battling with Malnutrition. Undernutrition (stunting and wasting), hidden hunger (deficiencies in vitamins and other essential nutrients) and obesity, are affecting South African children.

About 2.2-million (38%) children under five are stunted, wasted and overweight. Of these, one in four (or 1.7-million) are stunted, 100 000 are wasted and 800 000 are overweight.

According to the Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates 2019 edition, stunted children begin their lives at a marked disadvantage as they face learning difficulties in school, earn less as adults, and face barriers to participation in their communities. Children suffering from wasting have weakened immunity, are susceptible to long term developmental delays, and face an increased risk of death, particularly when wasting is severe.

Children form part of the social capital of our society, they grow up to be active ( or inactive) members of the society, contributing to how the society functions and what it achieves. “Social cohesion, a subset of social capital, is in itself and as part of other social conditions, now recognized to be essential for maintaining healthy populations”- Mindy Thompson Fullilove.

Fullilove, further states that, experience has shown that the way we organize our society- the extent to which we encourage interaction among the citizens, and the degree to which we trust, care and associate with each other in caring communities- are important determinants of health.

Investing in ECD has been proven to be one of the most effective means of alleviating poverty in the long term. The first 1000 days of a child’s life determine much of a child’s future development pathways. The lack of opportunities and interventions, or poor quality interventions, during early childhood can significantly disadvantage young children and diminish their potential for success in the future.

Pat Pridmore says that research has shown that physical and social structures present in a community can either encourage or discourage mutual support, self-esteem, a sense of belonging and strong social relationships. Together with the cultural or social homogeneity of a community, these structures can be targeted to improve health outcomes.

When the National Integrated Early Childhood Development (NIECD) Policy was approved by Cabinet in 2015, this was South African government’s way of introducing, before 2030, a structure to improve early child hood development, health, and nutrition services. Last year we also saw South Africa implementing a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened beverages that included sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and vitamin water as part of the Department of Health’s strategy to reduce obesity by 10% by 2020.

To date, we see free food being provided in some form at public schools and community-based facilities. And as welcomed as these interventions are, we cannot help but wonder if these interventions are enough to ensure that by 2030, the children of today are healthy adults of tomorrow. Adults that are fully developed and able to participate in the economic activities of the country?

If South Africa has children who are affected by severe malnutrition, how are we then going to have capable, active and healthy citizens that contribute to economic development, equality and assist in increasing social cohesion?

The onus should not only lay on government’s interventions to make sure that South Africa has well nourished and healthy children. As stated in the joint report, that the emerging face of malnutrition: childhood overweight and obesity- has been shaped, at least in part, by industry marketing and greater access to processed foods, along with lower levels of physical activity. Parents, aunts and uncles, the private sector, and civil society should take the responsibility and assist government in caring for and raising healthy children.