Malnutrition can be defined as lack of proper nutrition that can be caused by not having enough to eat or not eating enough of the right things. The immediate causes of malnutrition are due to inadequate food intake (in terms of quantity and quality) and diseases. However, there are other underlying factors which are related to poverty including food insecurity, lack of clean water, sanitation and health services. In most cases malnutrition is often looked at as lack of adequate food, however obesity which is caused by eating fast food which is low quality is also classified as malnutrition.
In view of this the Global Nutrition Report was launched this week at a ceremony attended by Kenya’s First Lady, who also happens to be a patron of nutrition in the country. The annual report is an assessment of progress made by countries globally in matters nutrition and aims to push governments and other players to make impactful commitment to end malnutrition in all its forms.
According the Global Nutrition report out of a world population of 7 billion, about 2 billion people suffer from micro-nutrient malnutrition and nearly 800 million suffer from calorie deficiency. Out of 5 billion adults worldwide, nearly 2 billion are obese and 1 in 12 have type 2 diabetes. Also out of 667 million children under age 5 worldwide, 159 million under age 5 are too short for their age that is stunted while 50 million do not weigh enough for their height (wasted) while 41 million are overweight. Overall under-nutrition represents the single largest killer of children under the age of five, being responsible for 3.1 million child deaths each year.
Malnutrition if untreated has both social and economic consequences. The social consequences are that children who are undernourished tend to have weaker immune systems and are thus more susceptible to infection and illnesses. Long term insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections can cause stunting whose effects in terms of delayed motor and cognitive development are largely irreversible. Consequences of stunting on education are severe with various studies showing that stunting affects brain development and impairs motor skills. As a result, stunted children become less educated adults thus making malnutrition a long term and intergenerational problem.
Malnutrition also leads to a slowdown in economic growth and perpetuates poverty. This is due to the fact that morbidity and mortality associated with malnutrition represents a direct loss in human capital and productivity for the economy. Also due to stunting that affects brain development, there exists an education gap which results in a lower skilled workforce that delays the development of a country.
Kenya being an agricultural country should have eliminated malnutrition a long time ago. However, this is not the case as there exists inadequate infrastructure connecting the bread baskets of the country to areas of need. This results in wastage of produce whereas in other regions people are dying of hunger. What is needed is political goodwill and commitment from the powers that be to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is built. Because as we have seen a country cannot develop and even achieve Vision 2030 with a malnourished citizenry.