WORLD VOICE: Stunted Growth Epidemic in Laos
October 16 was World Food Day and it got me thinking about food issues in Laos, the country where my non-profit, CleanBirth.org works.
Laos’ rate of stunting — low height for age as a result of chronic malnutrition — is staggering. A full 44 % of the population has stunted growth. In the remote areas where I work, stunting affects 54 % of children under 5, one of the highest rates in the country.
What are the causes of stunting?
The WHO sites multiple causes:
- Maternal factors. Mom’s diet before, during and after pregnancy, while breastfeeding is very important to a child’s future growth.
- Food insecurity. 80% of the Lao population lives in rural areas where the wet season brings rain-destroying crops. Pests are another big contributor to food shortages.
- Poor Hygiene. For example, according to UNICEF, “four out of five households do not dispose of children’s feces correctly and hygienically, an indication of poor health awareness.” Food and water are often consumed in a contaminated state.
- Non-exclusive breastfeeding. A study by Kaufmann et al found that pre-chewed rice was given to 20-48% of Lao infants in the first week of life. Another study shows a link between this rice supplementation and stunting.
- Poor quality foods, inadequate quantity, infrequent feeding. Nutrition experts find that over-reliance on rice and inadequate animal protein are to blame for much of the stunting.
What are the consequences of stunting?
- Problems with cognitive motor and language development.
- Difficulty in school and lower employment productivity/achievement.
- Lower adult statue, other health issues.
The Way Forward.
- Nutrition education is critical. “Even small changes in food preparation, such as adding salt at the end of the cooking process to increase iodine intake, can help,” said Aachal Chand of the World Food Programme.
- Government Action. The Lao government has a plan of action and participates in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) program, focused on sanitation, development and women’s education to improve nutrition.
With such a focus on the food issues we face in the developed world, its important to take a look at the situation at the other end of the food spectrum.
What food issues are most pressing in your country?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog By Kristyn Zalota, founder CleanBirth.org.
Photo Credit: Kristyn Zalota