WORLD VOICE: Stunted Growth Epidemic in Laos

WORLD VOICE: Stunted Growth Epidemic in Laos

Children in Laos 600

October 16 was World Food Day and it got me thinking about food issues in Laos, the country where my non-profit, 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

Photo Credit: Kristyn Zalota

Kristyn Zalota

Kristyn brings her years of experience as an entrepreneur and serial volunteer to She holds a MA, has run small businesses in Russia and the US, and has volunteered in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Uganda on projects related to women’s empowerment. After having children, Kristyn became an advocate for mothers in the US, as a doula and Lamaze educator, and abroad, as the Founder of She is honored to provide nurses in Laos with the supplies, funding and training they need to lower maternal and infant mortality rates in their villages.

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KENYA: Exclusively Mom

KENYA: Exclusively Mom

Maryanne_Kenya with her two sonsExclusive breastfeeding. Before I became a mother, I had never heard of it.  I  knew about breastfeeding, obviously, but not until I was seven months pregnant with my first child, did I learn it was possible to feed a baby only breastmilk for six months.

Most mothers I knew began complementary feeding with porridge and fruits around three months–which often coincided with their return to work after their 90-day maternity leave. Many mothers in rural areas offered their babies cow’s milk or porridge by two months. Certainly, almost all babies I knew were, by four months, happily indulging in fruits and porridge — regardless of whether they were breastfeeding, taking cow’s milk, or for the privileged few, drinking formula.

Could a child survive without even a drop of water? Impossible, I thought. Insane, actually. And even if it were possible, I imagined that the child would suffer from a nutritional deficiency of some sort. But, there was a mother and child on a television news program who appeared to prove me wrong.

I was confused as I listened to that mother and scrutinized her baby. He seemed to be the epitome of good health. He did not look famished or ‘deficient’ in any way. He was healthy to a fault. According to his mother, he hardly fell ill, not even with a common cold.

This mother encouraged new moms to breastfeed exclusively for six months. She was a career mother and had managed to do so. Interesting, I thought, especially because I knew I would be a working mother myself.

Included in the news segment were a peditrician and a nutritionist, both of whom affirmed that breastmilk only was best for baby for the first six months. They said breastmilk contained all the nutritional components needed for a baby’s growth for the first six months.

These people had to be kidding. Even professionals were in agreement with this woman?

I decided that additional research was necessary.  I Googled and Googled and Googled some more. It was unanimous: breast milk is best. I began thinking that I would give it a try.

By the time my son arrived two months later in April 2011, I was sold. I exclusively breast fed him for six months, even after I returned to full-time work when he was three months old. I carried a breast pump to work, and expressed milk over my lunch hour. It was the first time my decade-old company had received a request for space to pump. The storeroom, filled with old newspapers, was the best they could offer me.

Suffice it to say that I also managed to exclusively breastfeed my second son, born in April, 2013.

The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding have been well worth it. My sons don’t fall ill often. We saved a significant amount of money because we didn’t have to buy formula, which I would have done if I had not succeeded in exclusively breastfeeding them both. Today, I use all channels within my disposal to campaign for exlusive breastfeeding because I believe it is the best start a mother can give her child.

Just the other day, I was happy to learn that the exclusive breastfeeding rates in Kenya have gone up from 32% six years ago to 61%. Meaning that I and all the other mothers I have managed to inspire through my blog and other advocacy campaigns are among the counted! Yaaaay! That has been the greatest news I have heard in a long while.

Higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding mean that more children get to survive their infancy, fall ill less often, and get to celebrate their first birthdays.

I believe that giving a child a healthy start to life through a good nutritional foundation is one of the best gifts you can offer your child. My sons appear to agree!

Is exclusive breastfeeding common where you live?

This is a post original to World Moms Blog by Maryanne Waweru Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya.  Photo credit to the author.


Maryanne Waweru Wanyama

Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama, a mother of two boys, writes for a living. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya with her family. Maryanne, a Christian who is passionate about telling stories, hopes blogging will be a good way for her to engage in her foremost passion as she spreads the message of hope and faith through her own experiences and those of other women, children, mums and dads. She can be found at Mummy Tales.

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SOUTH AFRICA: Black Juice, Blonde Bread & Other Phenomena

SOUTH AFRICA: Black Juice, Blonde Bread & Other Phenomena

Hartenbos parkrun! 005 (1)I’ve always enjoyed eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising on a regular basis.  Taking good care of the one and only body I’ve been entrusted with just feels good, and being able to run around and have fun with my family feels even better. During my first pregnancy, many moms warned me that my kids would never eat the healthy food that I keep in my house.  Viennas, biscuits [cookies] and fish fingers would soon become our new household staples. “It’s all they’ll eat,” they said.  I just shrugged, smiled, and refused to budge.  How on earth have we come to believe that nutritious, delicious foods are somehow inferior to, or less tasty than, overly-processed, unhealthy products?

And since when are kids the dictators?


Karien Potgieter

Karien Potgieter is a full-time working mom of two toddlers. She has a master’s degree in ecology and works in the conservation sector in beautiful South Africa. Her other big passion, apart from her family and caring for the environment, is running. To date she’s participated in races on three continents and in six countries and she dreams of travelling to and running in many, many more. You can follow her and her family’s running adventures on her blog, Running the Race (

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SOCIAL GOOD: World Moms Take On The Live #BelowTheLine Challenge

SOCIAL GOOD: World Moms Take On The Live #BelowTheLine Challenge

One could barely think straight after five days she was so hungry. Another who is pregnant, was sapped of all energy after only one day.  Me, I caused a stink at the grocery store checkout over 65 cents, …..yes, we were impacted. I don’t think any of us will think of extreme poverty in the same way ever again.

 Live Below The Line is a campaign created to change the way that people think about extreme poverty. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on under $1.25 per day, something that 1.2 billion people in the world currently survive on. These are the poorest of poor, and to truly understand what it means to live that way, you need to experience it. Five World Moms took on the challenge, and in each of our own words here is what we found:

Hannah Ashton – USA

I’m six months pregnant, which is hard enough in itself, particularly when my day is spent running round after my toddler, Maggie, and I hadn’t been sleeping very well, for just one day, I thought I would give the challenge a go.  I could, of course, always stop, unlike the many pregnant women around the world, who sadly don’t have that option.

The day started well enough with oatmeal made with water, 2/3rds of a banana and a mug of green tea.   I used the tea bag to make 3 more mugs of tea which were like green water by the third and fourth cup.  This filled me up until lunchtime which was a kidney bean and carrot burger, using the recipe from “a girl called jack blog”, 1 oz. rice and two flatbreads.   Immediately after eating lunch I was still hungry.  It was a small amount of food and there was no more food until dinner.  I generally eat dinner with my husband when he gets home from work at 8pm.  Instead I was too hungry so I ate at 5:30 with Maggie when she ate her dinner.  My dinner was a kidney bean, carrot, onion and tomato stew with 2 oz rice.  Even though I had soaked the kidney beans overnight, boiled them for 20 minutes and let them simmer in the stew for an hour, they were still very hard, but I ate it all anyway.

  Later, as my husband cooked himself a delicious looking steak sandwich, a radish salad and drank a glass of red wine, I cooked up my two remaining flatbreads and made a fresh mug of green tea.  “It’s like we’re living in two different worlds tonight,” he commented.

At 3 am I woke up with a splitting headache and was extremely hungry.  I came downstairs, took two Tylenol and had a large piece of the blueberry pie that was left over from the weekend.   The next day, it is fair to say I really struggled even though the challenge was over.  The LBTL diet of the day before had really affected me.  I rang my husband at work in tears asking him to please come home from work earlier to help with Maggie’s bedtime routine as I didn’t have the energy to do it by myself (I have a nightly battle with teeth brushing but usually take it in my stride). I had to cancel a play date with a friend and I went to bed at 8:30.   It was only by Wednesday, that I felt back to normal.

I’ve not known what it’s like to be really hungry before; I’ve never dieted or not had enough money for food.   I can’t say if I was affected by this challenge more than others because I’m pregnant.   In a few years, I plan to revisit the challenge and complete the five days. What I can say is the experience has profoundly affected me.  No one should have to function on such little calories and the thought of a child having to go through this, especially, is completely heart breaking.

Item Total cost ($) Per day ($)
1 lb. dried kidney beans 1.69 0.34
1 lb. white rice* 1.07 0.21
24 oz. tomato sauce with basil and garlic 1.00 0.20
5 instant apple and cinnamon oatmeal* 0.89 0.18
1 lb. carrots 0.66 0.13
1 lb. flour* 0.65 0.13
1 lb. bananas 0.59 0.12
10 green tea bags* 0.50 0.10
0.5 lb. onions 0.33 0.07
Total 7.38 1.48

*items bought with a friend so we could split the cost.

beans copy

Deborah Quinn- Abu Dhabi

When I agreed to try living below the line for a day, I mostly had in mind trying to teach my kids about their relative privilege—that their status as “picky eaters” was in fact the ultimate luxury, given that a person only refuses one kind of food if he knows that another sort of food is available.  In Abu Dhabi, where I live, $1.50 converts to about 5 dirhams, or about the cost of a large loaf of bread.  I had decided that I would make a sort of vegetable, and as I selected one onion from India, one potato still crusted with dirt from Lebanon, two small carrots grown here in the UAE, I wondered whether the people who picked the vegetables were themselves living below the line in those countries.

My “soup” consisted of a chopped carrot, onion, and potato simmered in water with a bullion cube for flavor.  I confess that I used my immersion blender to puree the vegetables when they were soft, so that the soup felt a bit thicker and more filling.  I used another onion and some dried staples—lentils and rice—to make mejadra, a dish from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook.  Families all over this region have their own mejadra recipe, each with slightly different proportions of spices, but the dish is quintessential feed-a-lot-of-people-on-not-much: fried onions stirred into lentils and rice.  With my soup and my lentils and rice, I wasn’t hungry, but I wasn’t terribly satisfied, either: I wanted sugar, I wanted coffee, I wanted fresh green lettuce and ripe tomatoes.

I thought about the migrant workers in Abu Dhabi, who come from desperately poor towns in places like Goa, Kerala, Islamabad, or Peshawar, who work here for a pittance but are nevertheless making more money than they would at home.  What are they filling their bellies with, in order to face another day of work in Abu Dhabi’s broiling sunshine?  And given the world’s insistence—and reliance—on global capitalism, with its relentless emphasis on bottom line profits, how will we ever bring about permanent change, so that boullion soup is something you eat only when you have an upset tummy and not because it’s all you can afford?


Alison Fraser- Canada


My first attempt at living below the poverty line was much more challenging than I had anticipated. I had visions of making creative dishes to spread the $1.50 as thin as possible. It didn’t work. The bottom line is that $1.50 doesn’t get you much in terms of food in Canada. My meals consisted of small spooned amounts of peanut butter just to keep me going. I tried to drink lots of water to conquer the hunger, but that didn’t help much either. Fruit and vegetables were much too expensive to include in my meal plan, as winter in Canada results in costly produce.
In the end, my mind kept drifting back to my time in Tanzania where I met women who lived below the poverty line every single day. Some of these women were sick, and were forced to choose between their life and the needs of their children, as many HIV medications can only be taken with food. I can’t even imagine having to make that choice. So unfair.
This was an incredibly emotional experience and next year, I am determined to do it for more than just one day.

Elizabeth Atalay- USA

I could feel the color rising in my cheeks as the cashier called over the store manager. I had $7.50 to spend for my five day Live Below The Line food budget, and the misleading sale sign had just caused my order to ring up 65 cents over my carefully calculated bill. I could see them exchanging exasperated looks as I explained that the (crappy) instant coffee I had purchased was advertised for less than it rang up. The hunger pangs I felt later in the day were not what stuck with me from this challenge, those took place in the privacy of my home. It was the sting of humiliation as  the line of people behind me built up while I caused a scene over 65 cents at the grocery store. I was mortified, and imagined having to swallow my pride like this on a regular basis. I can describe the tightening in my chest, the flush of my cheeks,  and acid rising in my throat better than I can explain the emotion that moment made me feel…powerless, small, ashamed?   The manager explained that the sale was only for purchases of $25  or more.  They said they would give it to me anyways since I had told them, without going into detail, that I only had $7.50 to spend, and it was false advertising.  As much as I wanted to save face, I certainly wasn’t going to take the time to try to explain that I was doing it as part of the Live Below The Line campaign then, with the impatient crowd waiting for their turn. I plan to take the full 5 day challenge when it officially runs between April 28- May 2nd. After doing it for just one day I can see how impactful  it is in deepening empathy, and understanding on the issue of hunger, and what it means to live in poverty.

What $7.50 bought after sales, coupons, and making a scene.

What $7.50 bought after sales, coupons, and making a scene.

Jennifer Burden- USA

They (LBL) got me.  Big time. I’ve read about poverty, tweeted about it, gone to the far reaches of Uganda with the Shot@Life campaign, where I met children who are fed their one and only meal a day at school. I’ve also donated to local food banks, here, in NJ, USA.  I felt like I knew how important it is that there are people near and far who go hungry and that 1.2 billion people on the planet live below the poverty line, and that I was doing enough.  So, like a “know-it-all teenager” I naively went into this challenge thinking that I wouldn’t really learn much. Boy, was I wrong. Really wrong.

Originally, I signed up for a day of the Live Below the Line Challenge, and then, by Day 2, I had committed myself to the full challenge — 5 days. I thought I’d be celebrating on Day 5 that I had gotten that far, but there was a whole transformation. Check out my video from Day 5:

Every global health advocate, college student, mom, dad, teen, blogger, journalist, CEO, teacher, living human who is living above the poverty level, etc., should consider experiencing the challenge. The impact on eliminating world poverty would be profound if even more people were involved. It would be incredible. The challenge was a REAL eye-opener and new motivator for me. You’ve gotta do this!!!!!


Visit our World Moms Blog Team  Live Below The Line Page to benefit UNICEF, where you can donate to help those less fortunate, or see the impact we’ve already made in the challenge.


The Live Below The Line Challenge will run from April 28th to May 2nd and you can sign up here  as an individual or team.  Will you take the challenge?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Elizabeth Atalay, Jennifer Burden, Hannah Ashton, Deborah Quinn, and Alison Fraser.

Elizabeth Atalay

Elizabeth Atalay is a Digital Media Producer, Managing Editor at World Moms Network, and a Social Media Manager. She was a 2015 United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellow, and traveled to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow to report on newborn health in 2014. On her personal blog,, she uses digital media as a new medium for her background as a documentarian. After having worked on Feature Films and Television series for FOX, NBC, MGM, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Castle Rock Pictures, she studied documentary filmmaking and anthropology earning a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School in New York. Since becoming a Digital Media Producer she has worked on social media campaigns for non-profits such as Save The Children, WaterAid,, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation, Edesia, World Pulse, American Heart Association, and The Gates Foundation. Her writing has also been featured on, Johnson & Johnson’s,,, and Elizabeth has traveled to 70 countries around the world, most recently to Haiti with Artisan Business Network to visit artisans in partnership with Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans. Elizabeth lives in New England with her husband and four children.

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CHINA: Eating Safely, Wherever You Live

Ever since Charlotte started eating solids, we’ve paid a great deal of attention to what goes into that tiny, growing body. Yes, we are those parents–those hippie-granola troublemakers who refuse to feed our child refined sugars, processed foods, non-organic when possible, and anything with ingredients we can’t pronounce. There is just so much crap out there masquerading as food; while we can, we’d like to keep that stuff out of Charlotte.

Since arriving in China, our food philosophy has taken on a new spin. Of course, we’ve had to adapt to local circumstances: there is no Whole Foods-type superstore nearby selling certified organic everything. Indeed, organic is a serious issue here. Official certification is very difficult to obtain. Those who do manage to are often looked at with suspicion (what did they have to do to get it?); those who don’t are unregulated and often unreliable. And it’s not just local Chinese brands and stores; Walmart was recently in hot water in China when it was discovered that their organic pork was not in fact organic. (more…)

Mamasgotwanderlust (China)

You could say that Taryn has travel in her blood: a South African-born Canadian, Taryn has lived in Toronto, Vancouver, and Indiana, and has travelled extensively to Iceland, Israel, Italy, India, and a few places that don't begin with the letter I. After a brief stint as a travel guide writer, where she realized that her dream job was actually a lot of work for not much pay, she gave in to the lure of a steady job (and pay cheque) and settled in Canada's beautiful capital, Ottawa.

In 2010, she embarked on her biggest adventure when her daughter Charlotte was born. A few months later, her hubby J. accepted a work assignment in Russia, and the family moved to Moscow. In 2011, Taryn accepted a work assignment of her own in Beijing, China where she currently lives. While excited about the opportunity to live in the world's biggest up-and-coming country (and to practice herMandarin skills), moving to China has meant leaving J. behind in Russia while he finishes up his work assignment before moving to Beijing this summer.

In the meantime, Taryn juggles career-dom, living in a foreign culture, and being a temporary single-mom to a spunky toddler. Taryn is also the blogger behind Mama's Got Wanderlust, where she writes about her adventures in travelling, parenting, and living abroad.

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