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What is the effect of nutrition on child growth and development?

Nutrition plays a important role in a child’s growth and development.

Malnutrition, starvation, wasting, malnourishment, stunting, undernutrition … these are all terms that describe the impact of not having enough food, not having enough of the right foods or even, in the case of obesity, having too much of the wrong foods.

The World Health Organisation says 45 per cent of deaths among children under the age of five in low and middle-income countries can be directly linked to undernutrition; a lack of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

This may be caused by a diet poor in nutrition, with only a limited variety of food products available. It may be a direct result of food shortages – such as when crops fail due to extreme weather events, the terrible consequences of which unfolded in Africa in 2017.

Unsafe or contaminated water sources, which result in diarrhoea, can cause young children to lose weight rapidly, potentially leading to extreme malnourishment and death.

Undernourished mothers are also more likely to give birth to babies who are underweight, which can result in an intergenerational cycle of undernutrition.

Fentale, aged three months, undergoes nutritional screening during Ethiopia’s food crisis.

Effects of nutrition on child development

Even when not life-threatening, the effects of malnutrition can leave permanent scars. Over the long-term, malnutrition weakens immune systems, which increases the risk of disease. Children suffering from undernutrition may not have the energy to attend or travel to school, impacting their education and future employment prospects.

According to the World Food Program, undernourished children who survive early childhood are likely to be stunted, and will often have lower levels of education, earn less as adults, and have an increased risk of chronic disease and early mortality.

Importance of nutrition in child growth and development

Good nutrition is absolutely essential for a child’s health and development, which is why it is a cornerstone of ChildFund’s development programs. We work in partnership with local communities to establish nutrition groups and early childhood centres, so new mothers have access to all the information they need on child development and the importance of a healthy diet.

We train farmers on the cultivation of new crop varieties – this not only means families have more, and healthier, food to eat, but can also provide a new income source. In schools, we help children and teachers to plant gardens, increasing their understanding of how to grow fruits and vegetables, while also providing an additional food source for students.

During a drought or food crisis, ChildFund’s emergency feeding programs mitigate starvation and reduce the risk of significant wasting and stunting. Distribution of ready-to-use therapeutic foods, such as Plumpy Nut or Unimix, can mean the difference between life and death. Mass screening of children can also ensure that those suffering acute malnutrition are referred to hospitals for intensive management and care, with lifelong disabilities perhaps prevented.

Malnutrition remains one of the most significant global child health challenges. For this reason, it is included in the Global Goals, with a global objective to end hunger by 2030.

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