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Double burden of malnutrition and obesity high among children below age five in the Western Cape, recent survey reveals

The Western Cape stunting baseline survey found that the provinc had a double burden of malnutrition, stunting and overweight/obesity. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Western Cape stunting baseline survey found that the provinc had a double burden of malnutrition, stunting and overweight/obesity. Picture: SUPPLIED

Published Jul 29, 2023


FOOD aid organisations have identified poverty as the main cause of the high prevalence of malnutrition among children below the age of five in the Western Cape.

This was in response to the Western Cape stunting baseline survey (WCSBS) by the Western Cape Department of Health and DG Murray Trust (DGMT) in collaboration with investigators from the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, which compiled a comprehensive anthropometric malnutrition profile (stunting, underweight, thinness, overweight and obesity) in a representative sample of infants and children under five years of age in the province.

The survey found that the Western Cape had a double burden of malnutrition, stunting and overweight/obesity. The prevalence of stunting in the WCSBS (17.5%) was close to the upper cut-off of the medium public-health-concern category of 10–19% for 0–59 month old children.

Dayne Myles, regional manager of rise against hunger in Cape Town said: “This is as a result of undernutrition, where due to poverty, children in the Western Cape are not receiving sufficient meals, never mind nutritive sound meals. The second burden is that of obesity, which is a growing concern in the Western Cape as well as nationally,”.

He further said: “As an organisation, we focus on feeding highly nutritious, balanced meals to children at ECD centres. All of our meals, consisting of soya, rice, lentils and split peas are also fortified with vitamins manufactured specifically for Rise Against Hunger. By focusing on children at ECD centres, we are able to ensure that children under the age of six specifically receive adequate nutrition on a daily basis (Monday to Friday), cooked on site by the creche, ensuring access to meals. As an organization, we engage with volunteers and corporates to physically pack our meals, in order to grow awareness and action against malnutrition in children.”

Mark van der Heever from the provincial department of health, said the survey further found that 19.7% of children under the age of two were stunted: “Which is a grave cause for public concern. In collaboration with relevant stakeholders in child health, the recommendations from this survey will be taken forward, and additional interventions will be developed to further prevent and control malnutrition in children under-5-year-old.

“In addition, the Western Cape Education Department’s School Nutrition programme provides nutritious breakfast and lunch meals every school day to approximately 517 000 learners. R557 million has been budgeted for this programme in the 2023/24 financial year, with 1 038 schools, representing 67% of our public ordinary schools, benefiting from this pro-poor and extremely important initiative.”

Van der Heever said the survey also investigated potential causes of malnutrition, including direct causes (dietary intake and disease) and underlying causes (food security, caring capacity of caregivers and environmental hygiene).

“The department continues to work within communities and with its partner organizations to actively engage caregivers in communities and empower them on good health and nutrition (eating and living healthy) by not smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs during pregnancy or breastfeeding; love and attention babies need, and all the support moms need through establishing support systems; and play and stimulation for learning as well as the protection of a safe environment,” he said.

Monique Mortlock-Malgas, the Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) spokesperson said the DSD reached thousands of vulnerable children specifically by feeding through community-based programmes.

“This is done for example, (at) Risiha, drop-in centers, through alternative care placements, etc. which all have a nutritional component. The Department has allocated R50 million toward Community Nutrition and Development Centres (CNDCs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs). An additional top-up allocation of R25 million has been made to Community-Based Kitchens and CNDCs for the period of January to March 2023.

“Many children come along with adults (mothers specifically) to receive meals at these community kitchens. The Department currently (2023-24) supports 65 funded NPOs with 102 CNDCs, and 358 CBOs, which feed vulnerable individuals. There has been an increase in feeding sites, from 92 in 2020 to 460 in 2023. In addition to the services provided by the Western Cape Department of Social Development, the municipalities also play a big role in alleviating the plight of people who sleep on the streets,” she said.