South Africa is considering enriching staple foods such as maize meal, bread flour and possibly sugar following the finding of a health department survey that one in five children between the ages of one and nine years is stunted.
New laws could set minimum levels of vitamins to be added to staple foods.
The survey proposed government intervention in the form of food fortification ‘ enriching food with vitamins and minerals.
Maude de Hoop of the Health Department’s nutrition directorate said the survey had been crucial in identifying which foods were being consumed and which nutrients needed to be added to these staple foods.
“Based on the findings of the survey, a profile for fortification has been compiled in which the vehicles for fortification, the micronutrients to be added and the levels of fortification are proposed,” De Hoop said.
She said the survey also investigated whether hunger was also experienced by the children surveyed. More than 25 percent of the mothers surveyed said their children went to bed hungry more than five times a month.
At a national level, the survey found that stunting remained by far the most common nutritional disorder, affecting nearly one in five children.
Stunting was found to be far more prevalent in children from commercial farms and rural areas than urban residential areas.
Stunting happens over time and means that a child has endured painful and debilitating cycles of illness, depressed appetite, insufficient food and inadequate care. Many children do not survive such cycles. Of those who do, many are not as tall as they would normally be and the mental capacity of some is also reduced.
Children from the Northern Cape were most likely to be stunted (31%), followed by the Free State, Mpumalanga, North West, the Northern Province and the Eastern Cape.
The survey also found that one out of two children had an intake of less than half of the recommended level for a number of important nutrients such as energy (fat), zinc, calcium, iron and vitamins C and A.
The survey supported the popular belief that maize and sugar were the most frequently and consistently consumed foods in the country, followed by tea, whole milk, brown bread and margarine.
Household income was the decisive factor in the consumption and procurement of foods.
According to a United Nations report, “The Progress of Nations”, some 39% of children under five in the developing world are stunted ‘ around R209 million children. Of these children, about 40 million are living in sub-Saharan Africa, a district which includes South Africa. This means that 40% of children in this area are stunted.
Stunting rates are highest in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Low weight at birth, insufficient feeding, inadequate care and nutrient depletions caused by repeated bouts of illness culminate over time in a child whose height is less than that of other children of the same age. Such stunting is a standard marker of failure in early growth.
Deprivations in feeding and care that impair growth in the critical first years may also reduce a child’s cognitive development and learning ability, often leading to poor school performance and dropping out.
Stunting also occurs when babies are born underweight because the mother was poorly nourished or because she herself was stunted.
Once established, stunting and its effects typically become permanent. Stunted children may never regain the height lost and most will never gain the corresponding weight. – Health-e News Service