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The Devastating Impact of Child Malnutrition

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Posted on 4/30/2013
malnourished child

In Turkana, Kenya, "Mary" is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Millions of children living in developing nations are at risk of malnutrition. Aside from the potential for children to die or suffer disease, the effects of malnutrition can also pose a serious threat to children's development in later life. In countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, many children are at high risk of developmental delay caused by early and even prenatal malnutrition, caused when a pregnant woman doesn't get proper nourishment. ChildFund is working to educate mothers and provide children with the food they need to grow into healthy, happy adults.

The Chance to Grow

Malnutrition is one of the leading contributors to childhood stunting, according to the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP). This condition affects more than 147 million children in developing nations and is also a primary cause of mental retardation and even brain damage in some children.

Early intervention is crucial to preventing child malnutrition, starting during pregnancy. The two-year period starting with conception and continuing through birth and infancy is known as the "window of opportunity." Unfortunately, many children do not have access to the food they need in order to grow and develop normally, which leads to serious complications in later life.

Specific mineral deficiencies can have a particularly serious impact on childhood development. Research published by the WFP suggests that iron deficiency can lead to health complications including permanently impaired brain development, decreased growth and increased mortality and morbidity due to secondary infections. Children's overall IQ can also suffer.

Lasting Implications

woman carrying a child

A woman brings her child to a nutrition seminar and training session in the Budaka District of Uganda. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Child malnutrition is a serious health problem in many countries, including Liberia. Years of civil war have left parents in many communities unable to feed their children, resulting in long-term health risks. On a visit to Liberia in 2011, ChildFund's CEO Anne Lynam Goddard said the effects of malnutrition in some areas were devastating.

"I haven't seen that kind of malnutrition in a long time," said Goddard. "A long time."

Approximately 41 percent of Liberian children under the age of 5 are stunted, according to data from the WFP, meaning almost half the country's future population are at high risk of permanent brain damage, reduced IQs and a susceptibility to disease and infection.

Taking a Stand

malnourished child

Abraham G. Zharn, ChildFund Liberia's program manager, and ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard discuss the therapeutic card for "Ruth," a child suffering from malnourishment.

Although child malnutrition and its side effects are extremely prevalent in Africa, Mexico is also affected by undernutrition. ChildFund has worked in Mexico since 1955, and despite being the world's 12th largest economy, 40 percent of the country's population live in poverty.

To combat the effects of child malnutrition and developmental disorders later in life, ChildFund launched the Integral Nutrition Program in the poverty-stricken regions where we work in Mexico. This initiative helps pregnant women and children under 5 by providing regular checkups and educational programs to new mothers, designed to help them monitor their children's growth. While there is much to be done in Mexico, the success of our Integral Nutrition Program has resulted in a substantial reduction in child malnutrition in the areas in which we work. Since the launch of the initiative, malnutrition rates have dropped from 45 percent to 20 percent.

Clearly, there is much work to be done to fight child poverty and combat childhood malnutrition, and you can help. Through sponsorship, you can invest in a child, allowing him or her to live a happier, more fulfilling life.