One of the many harmful consequences of malnutrition in children is permanent “stunting” of the mind or body. The United Nations Children’s Fund is addressing this issue that affects more than 25 percent of children less than five years old. The organization is particularly concerned because “stunted” kids are put in a severe disadvantage for the rest of their lives.
According to Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, there are several ways to help prevent birth of stunted children. Some of these methods include advocating for breastfeeding, proper vitamin intake, and consuming clean water. Lake explains a child with access to these important elements is likely to have his or her brain and body develop normally. Children who do not receive the necessary nutrient are also put at risk for numerous other illnesses or even premature death.
The first two years of life are the most significant to a child’s health. Even in the womb, children are at risk if the mother is not dedicated to a balanced diet, drinking clean water, and consuming enough Vitamin A, iron, or folic acid. If a child does experience stunted growth or “stunting,” there is no way to reverse the damage after the age of two.
Anthony Lake describes “stunting” as “the least understood, least recognized and least acted upon crisis.” Unlike being underweight, stunted children can never be fully cured. Thus, the child must carry out his or her life with an underdeveloped brain and possible nerve and cell damage. Not only is this catastrophic for the child’s learning capacity and future career, but it is also detrimental to society as well.
Most stunted children live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In India, 48 percent of children under five years old suffer from “stunting.” All of these children will never have the chance to live up to their full potential. When new generations are unable to contribute intellectually and financially to society, the country’s entire economic system suffers. UNICEF is tackling the issue of one child at a time.
– Mary Penn