Children in South Africa are still widely undernourished, a report reveals. File Photo: Supplied
Children in South Africa are still widely undernourished, a report reveals. File Photo: Supplied

Chronic undernutrition in SA children persists – report

By Robin-Lee Francke Time of article published Feb 19, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - The 2020 South African Child Gauge report has revealed that the nutritional status of South Africa’s children is deteriorating.

The report is released annually by the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to review the status of children in South Africa and inform evidence-based policy and programming.

The report focuses attention on and identifies points of leverage to improve children’s nutrition outcomes, calling for strong leadership and concerted action from the government, civil society and the private sector to ensure children’s rights are upheld.

The reported revealed that one in four children under the age of 5 is stunted, a sign of chronic undernutrition which has remained unchanged for 20 years.

Over the same period, one in eight children under the age of 5 is either overweight or obese – double the global average.

In a statement released by the university on Friday, it said the double burden of malnutrition can occur in the same household or even the same individual.

It stated children who are stunted early in life are at a greater risk of becoming obese, with prevalence rising across the life course, especially among 28% of adolescent girls and 64% of adult women.

This increases the risk of developing non-communicable diseases, such as certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes and a severe Covid-19 infection.

It further stated the burden of child malnutrition remains unacceptably high for a middle-income country, placing it as an outlier among countries of similar wealth.

The root of the problem, according to the study, stems from apartheid and the ongoing failure to uproot poverty and inequality.

“Twenty-five years since the advent of democracy, South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world. Poverty has a profoundly damaging effect on children’s care, health and development, with young children in the poorest of households three times more likely to be stunted than those in the richest 20% of households,” the report stated.

UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said children who manage to survive malnutrition continue carrying the harm in their bodies, minds and spirits for the rest of their lives.

She said it doesn’t stop there; by attacking children, malnutrition erodes national development, and a nation that starves its children is also starving itself.

In South Africa, 35% of children live below the food poverty line in households with a per capita income of less than R571 (US$39) a month.

According to the National Department of Health’s ministerial committee for the morbidity and mortality of children under 5 years, one of the three leading causes of child deaths in the country is severe acute malnutrition.

Lori Lake, communication and education specialist at the Children’s Institute at UCT, said there is much that we as individuals can do to protect and promote our own health and nutrition and that of children, but this cannot be done in isolation.

“Safeguarding children’s health and nutrition requires intervention at every stage in the life course and collective action from a range of government departments, civil society and the private sector,” she said.

The 15th issue of the South African Child Gauge was developed in partnership with the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the Standard Bank Tutuwa Community Foundation, DG Murray Trust and Unicef South Africa.


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