child_malnutritionMalnutrition is responsible for causing over half of all child mortalities within the Sub-Saharan African nation of Malawi.

The economy of Malawi is largely agriculturally based, and has resulted in over 90 percent of the national population living under $2 per day. The sustainability of the Malawian diet has proven highly volatile, as both natural phenomenon and human activities have resulted in a persistent track record of food insecurity

With two major food-scarcity crises occurring in the past decade, researchers have noted that the level of dietary energy supply within Malawi does not meet the level of demand for population dietary energy requirements. Additionally, agricultural practices within this region have contributed to a lack of dietary diversification and insufficiencies in the provisioning of micronutrient food resources.

The statistical rates of children experiencing the effects of malnutrition within Malawi have remained unaltered since 1992. With 46 percent of children under the age of 5 experiencing variations of growth stunts and 21 percent of children underweight, researchers have noted that these adverse defects are most commonly influenced by micronutrient deficiencies.

A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Health determined that 60 percent of children under the age of 5 and 57 percent of non-pregnant women were experiencing sub-clinical Vitamin A deficiencies. Low levels of Vitamin A are responsible for significantly weakening the immune systems of developing children and to contributing to lower life expectancy rates correlated to the contraction of major illnesses.

The leading causes of malnutrition within Malawian children commonly include inadequate access to adequate pediatric care systems, dismal sanitary infrastructure and resources, an increased regional prevalence of infectious diseases, and the malnourishment of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Efforts to improve micronutrient deficiency rates through food-based strategies have proven widely ineffective and must be redesigned to offer adequate micronutrient resources to at risk population groupings such as children under 5 and pregnant women.

Despite levels of child malnutrition remaining unacceptably high, the Malawian government has attained notable success in meeting certain child-oriented Millennium Development Goals (MDG). MDG 4 outlines the necessity for developing nations to reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds by the year 2015 and has largely focused on the development of medical and sanitary infrastructures, increasing the prevalence of field vaccination programs and the provisioning of community-based educational programs.

Realizing significant reductions in children under 5 and infant mortality rates during the past two decades, Malawi’s measurable progress in combatting malnutrition indicates the potential for the achievement of MDG 4 in the coming years. Efforts to reduce the frequency of malnutrition within Malawi have included increased sustainable immunization practices, more effective micronutrient supplementation and distribution, increased access to sanitary water resources and efforts to eradicate neonatal tetanus.

Despite the use of such development programs to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, only 61 percent of the nation’s population exercises consistent access to enhanced sanitation methods. With an estimated 25 percent of government education institutions within Malawi lacking access to sanitary water resources, it is imperative to note the dire circumstances consistently faced by many Malawian children. The nation of Malawi will continue to face significant challenges in fully realizing MDG 4, as a climate of widespread poverty, weak institutional regulation and infrastructure, and limited resources due to human conflict and competition are responsible for adversely effecting these efforts.

With one in eight children dying each year in Malawi from preventable conditions including neonatal defects, malaria and HIV-related diseases, attention to the nutritional status of Malawian children is essential. The strengthening of short-term methodologies such as dietary supplementation coupled with investments in long-term food-based strategies will allow for continued successes in reducing national malnutrition rates.

– James Miller Thornton

Sources: FAO, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in Samoa
Malnutrition has widespread impacts and widespread consequences. As a worldwide problem, malnutrition impacts one in five children. Within Samoa, the problem is a growing health concern, particularly for children.

Malnutrition in Samoa occurs in a variety of forms. In Samoa, the most common form of malnutrition is Protein-Energy Malnutrition, or P.E.M. Because P.E.M. is caused by an inadequate protein intake, it has its greatest impact on children, due to the low intake of protein in their diet. In 2013, Samoa also saw 72 hospital admissions for acute, severe malnutrition. Two children died of these cases.

As it does in the rest of the world, malnutrition leads to many health problems in Samoa. In 2014, four children died and 19 were hospitalized as a result of diarrhea outbreaks. A ministry of health report connected poor dietary practices, and the use of Devondale milk as a substitute for both adequate baby formula and poor nutritional practices, to pediatric ward visits during the outbreak.

A lack of proper breast-feeding is a major contributing factor to malnutrition. A study in the city of Apia found that 17 percent of bottle-fed infants were malnourished, compared to only five percent of breast fed infants. Perhaps this is why a ministry of health report, in response to the diarrhea outbreak, listed advocating for proper breast feeding as a “priority area of concern,” and listed giving pregnant mothers food supplements such as folic acid and iron tablets as an “area for vigilance.”

Diarrhea caused by malnutrition is also difficult for health professionals in that diarrhea leads malnourished patients to become further malnourished.

The impact of malnutrition on Samoa, and particularly on the children of Samoa, is shocking. The reality of facing the situation is challenging, as the issue also connects with dietary changes in the region that have occurred over the past few decades, along with urbanization. That being said, supporting education on these issues for all along with supplemental nutrition problems will be highly important in preparing for the challenges of the present, while building a better future.

— Andrew Michaels

Sources: Samoa Observer, Radio New Zealand International, Radio New Zealand International, UN University, Samoa News

Malnutrition in Burundi
Populated with over 10 million people, Burundi is a densely packed, landlocked East African country with the worst rates of malnutrition in the world.

Burundi was rated the world’s leading nation affected by hunger, according to the 2014 Global Hunger Index (GHI), a score calculated annually by the International Food Policy Research Institute. Plagued with political turmoil and prone to natural disasters, Burundi has seen rates of malnutrition increase in recent years. Despite global strides in combating malnutrition in recent history, Burundi is one of only four nations that has seen an increase in GHI from 1990 to 2014, indicating a worsening situation in the country. With 67.3 percent of the overall population undernourished, it is one of two countries with a hunger situation labeled “extremely alarming” in the study.

As the vast majority of Burundi’s population relies on agriculture, many of the country’s inhabitants combat food insecurity and malnutrition due to climate hazards, limited land access and limited crop diversity. Despite a constantly growing population, food production has stagnated at pre-1993 levels, according to the World Food Programme. Additionally, due to rising costs of food — the price of beans increased by nearly 50 percent in recent years — the average household now spends over 70 percent of its income on food. While the nation’s government has programs in place to assist in the fight against malnutrition, it is growing increasingly costly for the country to deal with the worsening problem.

Common cases of malnutrition in the country include kwashiorkor and marasmus, both of which can stunt development and can be life-threatening if not treated. Although women and young children are most at risk for diseases caused by malnutrition, many men are also affected.

Additionally, many children and women suffer from a lack of micronutrients in their diets. In the first two years of life, it is especially crucial for children to get sufficient amounts of micronutrients such as iron, Vitamin A, iodine and zinc. Such nutrients are critical for physical growth and intellectual development.

Anemia is one of the biggest deficiency problems currently faced in Burundi, with 56 percent of children under the age of 5, and 47 percent of pregnant women anemic, according to the World Bank. Additionally, nearly half of the population as a whole is at risk for insufficient zinc intake, and a quarter of the country’s children under 5 and 12 percent of women are Vitamin A deficient. Although the effects of these deficiencies are less dire in the short term, they contribute to life-threatening illnesses and issues.

In order to address the problems of malnutrition in Burundi, the World Bank recommends extensive vitamin A supplementation and deworming in children under 5-years-old and increased iron supplementation for pregnant women. While about 96 percent of households are already consuming iodized salt, the World Bank recommends “universal salt iodization” in order to control iodine deficiency and avoid IQ loss in young children. Working to increase market and infrastructure development to promote dietary diversity can also combat issues with malnourishment.

Education and counseling services can also serve to improve feeding habits for children under five years old. While Burundi sees a lack of gender equality in most sects of life, women are still seen to have a strong maternal role in the family. UNICEF found that children of mothers with at least a primary level of education have 94 percent of less risks of growth stunting from malnutrition than children of mothers with no education. The study showed that mothers with some level of education had been proactive in managing malnutrition than other mothers, recognizing the importance of good breastfeeding habits, clean living and staggering pregnancies.

Since 2005, the Ministry of Health has emphasized building community-based infrastructure to screen for and treat acute malnutrition. Many organizations are also working with the Burundi government to increase education programs for mothers in order to deal with the country’s chronic malnutrition. In 2012, Burundi signed on to the Scaling up Nutrition initiative, which works with the United Nations, civil society, donors, businesses and researchers to work with communities on this issue. The initiative involves an interdisciplinary approach to combating malnutrition. Burundi’s approach, as established through the initiative, involves working to protect maternity leave, create legislation on the marketing of breast milk substitute, establish national directives on food, diversify and increase its food production, and increase nutrition education. The established goal in 2012 was to reduce malnutrition rates by 10 percent by 2016. No information has been released by Scaling up Nutrition or by the Burundian government on the progress of this goal.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: International Food Policy Research Institute, International Food Policy Research Institute, Iwacu-Burundi, Scaling Up Nutrition, World Bank, Wolrd Food Programme, UNICEF
Photo: The Guardian

For a Swazi, the most difficult time of survival is the first five years after birth. Malnutrition in Swaziland is responsible for 8 percent of child mortality. Because of an unorganized health system, 69 percent of child malnutrition cases go untreated.

Malnutrition is classified into two stages: chronic and acute. According to World Vision International, “chronic malnutrition results in stunting, or reduced growth in height, and means that a child has persistently not received adequate nutrition. Stunting affects one-third of all children in developing countries.”

Acute malnutrition is more expedited, resulting “in wasting, or rapid weight loss, and means that a child has experienced a relatively sudden drop in food intake. This is usually due to a severe food shortage or period of illness. Ten to 13 percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition.”

A study released by the World Food Programme (WFP) reveals that Swaziland relies on international donors to keep famine at bay. But in reality, this only conceals the fact that there are food shortages and malnutrition affecting the Swazis.

The Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) survey was initiated by Swaziland’s National Children’s Coordinating Unit and the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, the first survey of its kind in Swaziland.

This survey found that the effects of malnutrition in Swaziland have stunted about 40 percent of adults. Because the effects of malnutrition can be seen throughout the lifetime of a Swazi, this creates a domino effect in the country.

Economic Planning Minister Prince Hlangusempi Dlamini noted “The saddest thing is that this cycle [of malnutrition] is not limited to the life cycle of each individual, but affects that person’s children, who will pass it on to yet another generation.”

Recommendations following the report suggest Swaziland spending massive amounts on a nutritional intervention, but Swaziland is unable to provide such financing. What can be done to bridge the gap between the much needed funding?

The Power of Nutrition, a new fund created by UNICEF and the World Bank Group in April, will help millions of children affected by malnutrition. And as a way to combat malnutrition in the years to come, The Power of Nutrition will also help countries build healthy and prosperous communities. Aid is the first step in helping, but developing communities will ensure that malnutrition will not affect future generations.

One of the goals of The Power of Nutrition includes trying to break the cycle of undernourished girls, who become undernourished mothers and give birth to undernourished babies. This is similar to the cycle of malnutrition found in Swaziland being passed form generation to generation.

With a fund like The Power of Nutrition, which hopes to raise $1 billion to tackle children’s nutrition, Swaziland would be able to receive the funding essential for the nutritional overhaul. The funding would end the vicious cycle of malnutrition carrying over to the next generation.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: All Africa, Food Business News, UNICEF, World Vision International, Photo
Photo: Sustainable Conversations

Since the end of the Second World War, the face of malnutrition in Taiwan has changed dramatically. Once among the ranks of third world nations, Taiwan has enjoyed meteoric economic growth over the past seventy years. This growth has raised living standards, reduced poverty and eliminated undernutrition as a development issue. But despite this newfound prosperity, Taiwan continues to face malnutrition in the form of obesity and poor diets.

Between 1895 and 1945, Japan ruled over Taiwan as an imperial master. Over these five decades, Japan structured the island as a satellite granary. Taiwan’s principal crops became sugar and rice, and by the 1930s, Taiwan exported more than half of its agricultural output to the Japanese home islands. In fact, according to researcher Samuel Ho, the amount of rice available for consumption in Taiwan had fallen 24 percent by the 1940s. Although Japanese administrators modernized Taiwanese agriculture and invested in transportation infrastructure, they did little to improve the lot of the poorest Taiwanese: real wages remained low and malnutrition prevalent.

Soon after the end of Japanese rule, Taiwan found itself in a position to tackle malnutrition. No longer Japan’s offshore breadbasket, Taiwanese farmers saw export markets for their crops collapse. They thus began putting significantly less of their rice crop on the market and retaining more for home consumption. In addition, the Taiwanese government implemented land reforms that broke up large agricultural estates and turned tenant farmers into landowners. Combined with other “pro-farmer” policies and a growing industrial export sector, Taiwan had effectively eliminated malnutrition by the early 1970s.

But with the development of an advanced economy in Taiwan, malnutrition has resurfaced as a public health concern. According to University of Washington sources, dietary risks are the second-greatest contributor to Taiwan’s disease burden. Whereas most Taiwanese were once unable to afford a varied, nutritious diet, many now eschew healthy eating electively. To add to this concern, contemporary Taiwanese suffer from increasing rates of obesity: 31 percent of females and 41 percent of males were overweight in 2013, and obesity in people under 20 has increased by more than 50 percent since 1980. This “double burden” of malnutrition — undernutrition paired with obesity — among Taiwan’s youth may foretell the resurgence of malnutrition in Taiwan as a public health issue.

Recent research also suggests that cultural norms may perpetuate patterns of malnutrition in Taiwan. Researchers Lin and Tsai find that girls born to “marital immigrant” parents (in which one spouse — usually the wife — hails from abroad, typically Southeast Asia in the case of Taiwan) are significantly shorter and lighter than Han Chinese girls. Lin and Tsai note that Taiwanese men who marry immigrant women are disproportionately disadvantaged economically and physically. These men face immense pressure to preserve the family line, leading them to spoil their sons at the expense of their daughters. Given such ongoing changes in Taiwanese society, malnutrition in Taiwan may prove more intractable than previously thought.

– Leo Zucker

Sources: Malnutrition in Taiwan, Nutrilite Economic History Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Nutritional Research
Photo: World Vision International

According to the World Food Programme, almost 15,000 children living in Guinea-Bissau are plagued by acute malnutrition. As of 2013, a mere seven percent of the country’s population is food-secure. Rural communities suffer especially—as many as 93 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s rural population is living with food insecurity and the consequential threat of malnutrition.

So, what is malnutrition, and what impact does it actually have? According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is “a deficiency of nutrition” caused by factors related to poor diet and disease. Malnutrition hinders physical development, leading to stunted growth and underweight children.

Malnutrition also negatively impacts brain anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, potentially leading to irreversible brain damage. Additionally, an analysis of child mortality data from 10 countries, including Guinea-Bissau, found that due to “the vicious cycle between malnutrition and infection,” children who suffer growth restriction due to malnutrition are more likely to become ill and have a higher rate of severe illness, leading in turn, to further developmental stunting.

The World Factbook, a publication by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, identifies Guinea-Bissau as having the fifth greatest death rate out of 225 countries. Life expectancy at birth, a mere 49.87 years, is also the third shortest, ranking above only South Africa and Chad.

With 18 percent of children less than five years of age underweight and the high risk of disease, Guinea-Bissau is certainly impacted by that “vicious cycle” of malnutrition and illness.

The same analysis that notes this cycle also observes the importance of the “context of poverty” that malnutrition and its ill effects occur within. This poverty, the authors assert, “leads to diminished access to health care, exposure to contaminated environments, poor child care practices, and food insecurity that ultimately affects patterns of intake and illness.”

Poverty rates in Guinea-Bissau have increased notably over the past few years. Now, 75 percent of the country’s population experiences poverty.

Several contributing factors, including socio-political fluctuations and the declining market value of cashews, the country’s primary cash crop, have caused the increased poverty and subsequent malnutrition in Guinea-Bissau. The country’s economy is predominately supported by agriculture with more than 80 percent of the labor force employed in farming. This portion of the population is also the most vulnerable when it comes to food-insecurity.

Experts estimate that in order to end world hunger, alleviating food-insecurity in places like Guinea-Bissau, $30 billion per year is needed over the course of a decade. While it seems like a staggering sum, when compared to U.S. military spending, $30 billion is a drop in the foreign policy bucket.

The U.S. Department of Defense base budget for 2015 is $495.6 billion, nearly 17 times the $30 billion needed to alleviate world hunger. However, the U.S. spends less than one percent of its foreign policy budget on international aid.

An increased contribution to the fight against global poverty and hunger need not be drastic. In fact, by fulfilling their 1970 promise to give 0.7 percent of gross national income as official international development aid, the U.S. and other wealthy member countries of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development could end global poverty.

This foreign aid investment would help people struggling with food insecurity in places like Guinea-Bissau, preventing malnutrition and all its ill effects.

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: World Food Programme, MDGIF, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, CIA, Nutrition Reviews, WHO, Los Angeles Times, U.S. Department of Defense, OECD
Photo: World Food Progamme


Three and a half billion people are affected worldwide, a disease which affects people of all levels of income and the cause of $70 billion lost in overall GDP: Anemia.

Anemia is a disease that results from the lack of iron in the human body. It can cause weakness, shortness of breath, headaches and dizziness and can prevent growth in children; however, it can also be cured with a simple little fish. This Lucky Fish is being used in Cambodia, and has cut the rates of anemia in half. After a trip to Cambodia, Dr. Christopher Charles saw first-hand how terribly anemia was affecting the lives of children and women in the region, inspiring the development of the Lucky Iron Fish, which has been introduced to several villages within it.

The fish has always been an auspicious symbol in Cambodian culture, and it looks like this fish might just save their lives. Appearing as a smiling fish, about 7.5 centimeters and weighing no more than 200 grams, all one has to do is boil it in a saucepan along with food, add a dash of lemon to increase iron absorption, and they are all set. These fish are chemically designed to release 75 percent of a person’s daily need for iron and last a family for up to 5 years.

After having distributed several iron fish to Cambodian communities, the Lucky Iron Fish Project has seen a 50 percent decrease in the rates of anemia in just 9 months. This is a vast improvement from previous attempts at curing anemia with iron supplement pills; these proved to be too much of a hassle for many of the villagers. This fish is simple, convenient and easy to use. One woman spoke to the BBC and stated that she was “happy, the blood test results show that [she has] the iron deficiency problem, so [she hopes she] will be cured and will be healthy soon. [She thinks] all the people in Sekeroung village will like the fish, because fish is [their] everyday food.” Many NGOs face a lot of push-back from the communities they seek to help, so this kind of reaction is very promising.

When people do not have to worry about meals and nutrients, and no longer feel weak and tired all the time, a lot more innovation can occur. By focusing on the root of the issue and providing stable diets to these communities, they are being primed to become hubs of success. A developing country can develop faster when all of its citizens are able to put their best foot forward and think clearly. A lot of change can come from one little fish, and with countless people affected with anemia worldwide purchasing these fish, and “schools of fish” for Cambodia, it looks like a big difference can be made. This one little fish can really help the world to “just keep swimming.”

– Sumita Tellakat

Sources: The Lucky Iron Fish, BC Corporation, Science Alert, BBC
Photo: The Lucky Iron Fish

Facts About Malnutrition
When focusing on the fight against poverty, hunger and malnutrition are two things that are frequently brought up. People tend to have an awareness of the concepts along with their prevalence, yet many facts tend to be ignored in discussions relating to malnutrition. Discussed below are the leading facts about malnutrition and their implications.


Top 10 Facts About Malnutrition


1. Two Billion People Worldwide Suffer from Malnutrition
Although malnutrition is often discussed as a problem, it is generally discussed as a problem of the unlucky few. Yet, the reality shows just how widespread the problem truly is. Two billion people, or nearly a third of the global population, suffer from malnutrition.

2. Two-Thirds of Those Suffering from Malnutrition Live in Asia
Although Asia is not the continent with the highest rate of malnutrition, it is the continent with the largest number of malnourished citizens. There is some good news on the issue, however, as the percentage of the population suffering from malnutrition in South Asia has fallen in recent years.

3. Almost 14 Percent of the Population in Developing Countries is Malnourished
The fact that malnutrition primarily affects developing countries tends not to surprise people. However, it is still shocking how widespread the problem is in these countries. More than one in nine people in developing countries suffer from malnutrition.

4. Scaling Up Programs to Target Malnutrition Worldwide Would Cost Only 11.8 Billion Dollars Per Year, According to the World Bank.
For context, the United States spent 618.7 billion dollars on military expenditures in 2013. The need for action is great, and action on behalf of the United States has never been more possible in the fight against hunger.

5. One in Four of the World’s Children are Stunted.
Being “stunted” is defined as having one’s physical and mental growth and development stalled due to a lack of food. This problem mainly impacts developing countries where the number has the potential to rise to one in three.

6. One in Four People in Sub-Saharan Africa are Malnourished
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the greatest rate of malnutrition among its population. The global need to address malnutrition is a challenge, but with the unfair impact it has on regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, it is a challenge we must be willing to face.

7. Half of All Pregnant Women in Developing Countries are Anemic
Anemia, a possible result of malnutrition, causes 110,000 deaths each year during childbirth. Women as a whole also tend to suffer more from malnutrition due to often-sexist norms relating to the issue.

8. Underweight Children are 20 Times More Likely to Die Before the Age of Five
Malnutrition’s biggest victim of course, is children. Along with the one in four children who are stunted by malnutrition, underweight children are victims of malnutrition. Underweight children, particularly those born to malnourished mothers, are 20 times more likely to die before the age of five.

9. One Third of Child Deaths Prior to the Age of Five are Caused by Malnutrition
As mentioned, malnutrition particularly harms children. Perhaps that harm to children is the most inexcusable aspect of malnutrition. One-third of child deaths prior to the age of five are caused by malnutrition, something that could be addressed through a deeper global focus on improving access to food worldwide.

10. It’s Getting Better, but There is Progress to be Made
So, here’s a little bit of good news: since 2009, the number of children receiving treatment for the acute malnutrition they suffer from has tripled. There is still progress to be made, however. Although the number of children receiving treatment has tripled, the number of children receiving treatment still remains as low as 15 percent.

Through understanding the facts that surround malnutrition, a shift can be made toward addressing the issue. The challenge is great and the global community’s ability and need to face that challenge is even more so. Only through a willingness to take action, can meaningful action be made.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: USA Today, World Food Programme World Food Programme Action Against Hunger World Food Programme
Photo: Adfinitas

Situated between Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran, Armenia is a lower-middle-income country with a population of 2.977 million people. According to the most recent data, 32 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. While poverty levels have gradually decreased in recent years, malnutrition is still widespread, especially among children. Below are some fast facts to get you up to date on malnutrition in Armenia.

1. Based off World Bank studies, 5.3 percent of Armenian children under the age of 5 are underweight.

This number comes from 2010 World Bank studies that defined a child as ‘malnourished’ if his or her weight was more than two standard deviations below the median for the international reference population in the same age bracket.

2. Stunting affects about one in five Armenian children.

Stunting, also known as chronic malnutrition, is caused by long-term undernutrition. A stunted child looks averagely proportioned, but is shorter than normal for his or her age. Stunting can also affect a child’s cognitive abilities and increase his or her vulnerability to disease. After a certain age, the effects of stunting are irreversible.

3. Children from both poor and wealthy families are malnourished.

The 2010 Armenian Health and Demographic Survey, or ADHS, found that while stunting is more prevalent among children whose mothers have less education, there is no clear correlation between income and stunting.

The occurrence of stunting across income brackets highlights the importance of education in combating malnutrition in Armenia. Kim Hekimian, lecturer at the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, argues that educational initiatives for families could have a huge impact on lowering rates of undernutrition in children. “We want to measure the knowledge of caregivers—mothers and grandmothers—because they probably don’t know about the importance of iron and protein for little ones, [they think] that bread and potatoes are filling, nutritious, and relatively cheap.”

4. Malnutrition is a threat to Armenian national security.

In recent decades many factors have contributed to Armenia’s diminishing population of which 28.2 percent has emigrated and fertility rates are below replacement level. Now, experts fear that the prevalence of malnutrition in Armenia will only make matters worse. “For the small population we have left, we have essentially a situation where one in five children is not going to reach his/her potential,” Hekimian explains.

5. According to the World Bank, 16.8 percent of Armenian children under the age of 5 are overweight.

For comparison, in 2012 the World Bank found that six percent of children in the U.S. under the age of 5 are overweight.

While many people believe that overweight and obesity are problems found only in high-income countries, childhood overweight and obesity cases are increasing at a 30 percent higher rate in lower- and middle-income countries.

In many cases, families choose processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt because they cost less than fresh fruits and vegetables. However, these processed foods are low in nutrients. It is not uncommon in developing countries to find children who are both undernourished and overweight or obese.

– Caitlin Harrison

Sources: UNICEF, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, World Bank 3, World Health Organization, Armenian Weekly 1, Armenian Weekly 2
Photo: Flickr

Though the shores are teeming with fish, childhood malnutrition in Mauritania persists.

According to UNICEF, 20 percent of the country’s children under five are underweight. Another 22.5 percent of children exhibited signs of stunting, an inhibition of growth caused by chronic malnutrition. Wasting, a deterioration of fat and muscle due to acute malnutrition, was seen in 12.2 percent of children.

Mauritania ranks 27th in the world for under-five mortality, with a rate of 84 per 1000 births. Thirty-four percent of children are born with a low birth weight of less than 2500 grams.

Professor and nutrition expert Michael Golden stated in a 2012 interview with UNICEF that malnutrition is often caused by a combination of poverty, low social mobility and poor medical services. “What is needed now is to focus on health services research – how to deliver services effectively to poor people in places like Mauritania,” Golden said. “We need to maximize the efficiency of small numbers of staff who are not always well trained.”

One of the world’s poorest countries, Mauritania is known for its slave trade. Though slavery was outlawed in 1981, there were no criminal penalties for slave owners until 2007 and the practice is still widespread.

Mauritania’s economy relies mostly on agriculture, fishing and mining in lieu of industry. Very little of Mauritania’s land is arable and the country suffers from recurring droughts. Overfishing by foreigners has hurt its economy.

The country continues to be home to nearly 50,000 refugees fleeing neighboring Mali. In 2012, war broke out between the Malian government, Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists. The region remains volatile and refugees are reluctant to return.

According to the U.N.’s Standing Committee on Nutrition, malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease. It is especially dangerous for young children, who need a proper diet to develop. Without necessary vitamins and minerals, children may suffer from stunted physical and mental development.

Malnutrition is both a cause and symptom of global poverty. In countries where families consist of many children, it may not be possible to feed all of them. Those who are malnourished may struggle to work and mothers are often unable to breastfeed. As stunted children typically earn less as adults, malnutrition is a major factor in the cycle of poverty.

– Kevin Mclaughlin

Photo: Voice of America