Stunting – A silent emergency
Stunting is associated with lifelong cognitive defects, educational and employment challenges, increased risk of chronic diseases in adulthood and cycles of intergenerational poverty. A worrying 27% of children under 5 in South Africa are stunted. This is unjust and should not be allowed to continue.
Stunting is a result of prolonged undernutrition and exposure to repeated infections, perpetuated by factors at the household, community & societal level.
Because of the complex interplay of the drivers of stunting, the causes of stunting cannot be addressed in isolation, and require a multisectoral approach, where the nutrition specific or immediate causes of stunting are simultaneously addressed alongside the nutrition sensitive or underlying causes of stunting. Want to learn more about stunting and what you can do to help South Africa get down to zero- download our infographic here.
Why should South Africa be investing in zero stunting?
Investments in nutrition have been described as ‘durable, inalienable and portable (World Bank, 2017) because, once the investment it lasts a lifetime, it cannot be taken away from the child and follows the child wherever they go. These “grey matter infrastructure” investments also pay lifelong dividends, not only for the child who benefits from a healthy start to life but for our society that will be more equitable and more robust as a result. By investing in nutrition and reducing stunting we as a country also optimize what we can achieve from our other development work in education, health and youth unemployment. By not addressing the high prevalence of stunting in South Africa, we undermine the development interventions we already have in place particularly as we move from an era that relied largely on unskilled manual labour to a technology driven future that will insist the next generation of South Africans be highly skilled.
Stunting can (and must!) be beaten
Countries that have demonstrated noteworthy reductions in stunting have done so by prioritising interventions targeting women of reproductive age and children under five, with an emphasis on the critical first thousand days of life (i.e. from conception to age two), adopting a multisectoral approach, garnering high-level government prioritisation of stunting and driving community level interventions grounded in high quality data. Want to learn more about what has worked in other countries, download some case studies MAHARASHTRA INDIA CASESTUDY and PERU CASESTUDY.
‘Without good data your are flying blind- If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.” -Kofi Annan
Part of the challenge in the South African context is that we do not have good and sufficiently detailed data on the nutritional status of South Africa’s children (South African Early Childhood Review, 2017). This makes it difficult to target interventions and focus programs and resources on at-risk communities. Whilst advocating for greater investments in more regular and detailed surveys of the nutritional status of South Africa’s children, the Grow Great campaign is running community based surveys that aim to profile the nutritional status of our children and to use that data to advocate for programs and policies that help ensure the next generation Grow Great. Our first such survey is currently underway in Worcester in the Western Cape, in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch, Western Cape Department of Health and Boland Hospice. Watch this space for some of our early findings.