Namibia: 280 000 Namibian Children Undernourished

ONLY 13% of Namibian infants receive their minimum acceptable diet, according to a report published by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) on the issue of children, food and nutrition.

This means that approximately 288 840 of Namibia's 332 000 children under age five are not receiving the minimum acceptable diet for infants and young children.

A minimum acceptable diet requires that a child has at least the minimum dietary diversity (consumption of four or more food groups from the seven food groups), and minimum meal frequency.

The Unicef 'State of the World's Children' report, which was released yesterday, seeks to deepen knowledge and raise awareness of key issues affecting children. Unicef has published this report since 1980.

According to a press statement issued by Unicef in light of the just-published report, it is the most comprehensive assessment yet of 21st century child malnutrition.

"An alarmingly high number of children are suffering the consequences of poor diets and a food system that is failing them," they warned.

The statement details that globally, at least one in three children under five is either undernourished or overweight. Meanwhile, about two in three children aged between six months and two years are not fed food which supports healthy growth.

Earlier this year, Unicef established that one in four Namibian children experience stunted growth (meaning they are too short for their age) as a result of malnutrition, while nearly one out of two are anaemic (meaning they lack healthy red blood cells).

Figures from the report indicate that in Namibia, 23% of all children aged between zero and four years are stunted. Furthermore, the poorest 20% of this demographic are more affected than the richest 20%.

The report also indicates that 7% of this demographic are moderately to severely wasted - meaning the child is too thin for his or her height. On the other hand, 4% of children in this age group are overweight.

"In 2013, wasting led to around 13% of worldwide deaths among under-fives, representing 875 000 child deaths that could have been prevented," the report states.

In Namibia, the prevalence of children under-five not growing well - meaning those affected by stunting, wasting and being overweight - is between 30% and 39%, which is only slightly lower than the average figure for the eastern and southern African region.

The prevalence in this region is recorded at 42,1%.

"This triple burden of malnutrition - under-nutrition, hidden hunger and being overweight - undermines children's health, and physical and cognitive development," the report continued.

Furthermore, poor diets are now the leading cause of death worldwide.

Poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child's life, and Unicef states that breastfeeding can save lives. However, mothers worldwide are weaning their children off breastmilk at younger ages.

In Namibia, 80% of infant children transition to solid, semi-solid, or soft foods six to eight months after birth.

Last month, Namibia launched the Cost of Hunger in Africa (Coha) study to establish the long-term economic and social effects of malnutrition in the country in order to find ways to effectively tackle the issue.

As previously reported in The Namibian, the study promises to generate data and information that will guide policymakers in finding alternative interventions to tackling malnutrition.

However, Namibia is also faced with the unique challenge of severe drought conditions, which could exacerbate malnutrition.

"The ongoing drought that Namibia is witnessing for the past three years is putting a lot of strain on the poorest families. Ultimately, it is the children and the adolescents who bear the brunt of the effects of this natural disaster," Unicef representative to Namibia Rachel Odede said.

She previously stated that many of the country's goals and targets for sustainable development, especially pertaining to nutritional health, will not be achievable unless hunger, food and nutrition insecurity are eliminated.

The 'Crop Prospects, Food Security and Drought Situation Report' published earlier this year, detailed that with the current severe drought, Namibia only produces 43% of its total national food needs, leaving an approximate 290 000 people food-insecure.

With this report, Unicef has made an urgent appeal to the government to actively prioritise the health of children by improving nutritional education, reduce the demand for unhealthy foods, and build healthy food environments for young people.

"This is not a battle we can win on our own. We need governments, the private sector and civil society to prioritise child nutrition, and work together to address the causes of unhealthy eating in all its forms," said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.

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