Breastfeeding babies and investment in ensuring disease-free environments can reverse stunted growth in children, First Lady Dr Tshepo Motsepe said. Picture: Getrude Makhafola/ANA

Johannesburg - Breastfeeding babies, good nutrition and investment in ensuring healthy, disease-free environments can reverse stunted growth in South African children, South Africa's First Lady Dr Tshepo Motsepe said on Wednesday.

At least 27 percent of children under the age of five are stunted, Motsepe said as she launched a campaign to eliminate stunting in children by the year 2030.

"The campaign tells us stunting is merely a disapproving reaction and response of nature to the uneven, unequal and unjust socio-economic conditions under which millions of our compatriots strive to survive," she said.

"We are reminded today that maternal nutrition and infection are among the leading causes of stunting in children."

Stunting in children is caused by prolonged lack of good nutrition. The condition affects physical and brain development, leading to bad performance at school compared to unstunted children. 

This bad childhood foundation could lead to adults that are likely to be unemployed; and are at higher risk of getting diabetes and hypertension. The adult is exposed to being trapped in inter-generational cycles of poverty.

Motsepe said everyone, including business, needed to start normalising breastfeeding of babies and not victimise mothers.

"This is a campaign that must take place in all sectors of our society in all corners of our country. It requires participation of South Africans who live in abundance and those who live in need. It embraces all South Africans -- black and white, urban, rural and females and males," she said.

For the campaign to gain ground, it is important to involve community health workers, who are at the coal face of primary health care, she said. 

Community workers should receive continual training and be able to help mothers with the baby's crucial first 1000 days. Breastfeeding has all the nutrients a baby needs for the first six months of its life.

"It is my hope and yours as well that we will stunt stunting. One in four of our children is stunted...if our children are stunted, we face a stunted future generation. Just imagine having a stunted nation," said Motsepe.

African News Agency (ANA)