A surge in child malnutrition cases in the coming months is inevitable, experts have warned, although the data to support the theory that there has been a Covid-19-linked increase in child malnutrition is not there yet.
Child nutrition rose to the news agenda last week when the South African Medical Research Council’s CEO, Dr Glenda Gray, claimed in an interview with News24 that child malnutrition was increasing at Chris Hani Baragwanath academic hospital.
Malnutrition in children takes three forms: being underweight is the least severe kind, while “stunting” is when children do not grow properly and are short.
Stunting is often a sign of chronic malnutrition and is generally irreversible.
In many cases, stunting starts in utero, causing many experts to raise the alarm about interventions specifically for pregnant women during Covid-19.
In South Africa, about a quarter of all children are stunted. The condition can have severe neurological and other developmental consequences for children.
Professor Julian May, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape, says the nutrition of pregnant women and newborns during lockdown is not receiving enough attention.
Stunting is a real worry for experts now, he says.
“The reason we worry about stunting is not that the children will be short, but because of what it signals about the development of the rest of the child’s body. Stunting influences the development of a child’s immune system,” he says.
“You are stunted for life. It is not reversible.”
This is an abridged version of the article originally published by News24. Access the full article here.
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