Stunting: A serious health impairment

INFANT formula milk is not the best for babies. Breastfeeding is the best option.


IT is imperative to mention at the outset that the cardinal rule in baby feeding is that babies aged between six and 12 months should be breast-fed frequently before being given other foods. Babies aged below six months should be breast-fed exclusively.

Parents should be aware that after six months of age, the risk of infection increases as the child begins to eat other foods and starts to crawl. There is also the risk of stunting at this time. Stunting is reflected in poor, inadequate growth in young children, to put it simply.

Stunting is associated with adverse cognitive development in childhood and adolescence, fewer years of schooling, decreased productivity, and reduced adult stature. At one time, stunting was common in Mtwara Region where some adults were rather small.

Recovery from early stunting is possible however, few studies explore whether those who demonstrate linear catchup growth experience long-term cognitive deficits. Aside from inadequate nutrition, there are several other causes of childhood stunting.

These include: chronic or recurrent infections, intestinal parasites, low birth weight, and in rare cases, extreme psychosocial stress without nutritional deficiencies. Several of these factors are influenced by each other.

Low birth weight is correlated with nutritional deficiencies, and inadequate nutrition is correlated to chronic or recurrent infections. One of the serious consequences of stunting is particularly impaired cognitive development.

When a child has inadequate access to food, their body conserves energy by first limiting social activity and cognitive development in the form of apathetic and incurious children. These children may not develop the capacity to adequately learn or play.

Then the child’s body will limit the energy available for growth. Every child must be fed on healthy, clean food. A properly fed child normally thrives and grows well.

Both the child’s hands and his food should be kept clean. Children aged 12 to 24 months should continue to breast-feed after meals and whenever they wish. Some Maasai mothers breast-feed for up to five years. This practice goes a bit far.

But it is not condemnable. A child food must be kept impeccably clean. If a child eats bad food from time to time he will often be ill. Food that is eaten raw must be washed or boiled slightly. Cooked food must be eaten without delay.

Leftovers of food should be reheated thoroughly. Drinking water should come from a safe source and should be kept clean. Clean drinking water can be obtained from a regularly maintained, controlled and chlorinated piped supply. It can also be obtained from a borehole or a protected spring well. If water is drawn from ponds, streams, springs, or tanks, it can be made much safer by boiling.

Even the River Ruvu water consumed in Dar es Salaam and the borehole water consumed in Dodoma, needs boiling. Some people think purified and chlorinated water is absolutely safe. It is not. All faeces, including those of the child, should be discarded in a latrine or toilet or even buried. If this is not done the child may frequently get worms and other problems.

A health worker must deworm a child immediately. Poor nutrition in the first two years can slow a child’s physical and mental development for the rest of his life. In order to grow and stay healthy, young children need a variety of nutritious foods. Children’s energy and bodybuilding needs are great.

So it is important that children eat frequently to provide for all their needs. Foods such as mashed vegetables, a little chopped or minced meat, eggs or fish should be added to the child’s food as often as possible. A small amount of vitamin enriched oil may be added. If meals are served in a common dish, younger children may not get enough food.

Young children should have their own plate of food to ensure they can eat to their fill and so that the parent can see how much they have eaten. Young children may need encouragement to eat and may need help in handling food or utensils. A child with a disability may need extra help when eating or drinking. Children aged six months or older need to get vitamin A from other foods or supplements.

Vitamin A can be found in liver, eggs, dairy products, fatty fish liver oil, ripe mangoes and papaws, yellow sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables and carrots. Children who do not have access to these foods are at risk of night blindness. If a child has difficulty seeing in the early evening and at night, more vitamin A is probably needed.

The child should be taken to a health worker for a vitamin A capsule. Paediatricians say that diarrhoea and measles deplete vitamin A from the child’s body. Now, while stunting is not necessarily a health hazard and may not kill a child, illnesses can. Hundreds of young children go into early graves daily in this country.

Many fall victim to common illnesses largely due to the ignorance of their parents or caregivers. The killers include preventable or curable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malnutrition, measles and malaria.

These are the most formidable Big Five killers south of the Sahara. Malaria, an easily curable disease, is the most notorious child killer. Malaria kills 600,000 children in Sub-Saharan Africa every year, according to WHO statistics. The disease is a widespread tropical killer that erupts when a parasite is transmitted to a human by the female anopheles mosquito.

So, avoiding mosquito bites, especially during the night can help prevent malaria. Parents should make sure they protect children from mosquito bites with the use of bed nets that are specially treated with insecticides.

Malaria symptoms in children can vary from child to child, but the most common symptoms include mild flu and cough. Most children will also exhibit a temperature and may look unhappy and withdrawn. Others cry incessantly and refuse to breast-feed or eat.

Children with malaria can mostly be treated quickly and effectively with a course of inexpensive tablets. Sick children must be taken to hospital as soon as possible. Some parents administer very bitter herbal concoctions on their ailing children.

This move is likely to delay medical intervention. Malnutrition is another child killer that contributes to more than half of all childhood deaths. So it is a very serious medical condition. Malnutrition results from a lack of nutritious food as well as poor feeding practices and infection or even a combination of the two.

Make sure you feed your child properly. Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection that ranks high among child killers. The disease kills more than two million children less than five years of age every year worldwide. In most cases the disease can be treated with low-cost antibiotics.

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