The World Bank says malnutrition is stunting economic growth in poor countries. In a new report, the Bank says better feeding and care of children are needed to help ensure a country’s overall well being.
The report – entitled “Repositioning Nutrition as Central to Development” – says, “Malnutrition has long been known to undermine economic growth and perpetuate poverty.” Nevertheless, it says, for decades “governments in developing countries have failed to tackle nutrition.”
The author of the report, Mira Shekar is a senior nutrition specialist and epidemiologist for the World Bank. She says malnutrition is not always as obvious as one might think.
“Usually you cannot tell. You cannot tell that a child is malnourished unless the malnutrition is really very, very severe, in which case you can see it. Either in the form of severe blindness or you see it in severe stunting, where a 19 or 20 year old will look like a 10 year old. But most of the time you don’t see it,” she says.
Shekar says you can see HIV/AIDS and malaria, but malnutrition can go unnoticed. That is, unless simple, basic tests are routinely given to children in poor countries, which she says often is not done.
“Checking the height and the weight of a child on a regular basis and there are references or standards that the World Health organization has developed. And one simply measures the child against those references,” she says.
Malnourished children are more likely to die of HIV, malaria or diarrhea.
The author of the World Bank report says African countries are often perceived as having the worst malnutrition problem. But India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, for example, have malnutrition rates double those of sub-Saharan Africa.
She says malnutrition is not simply caused by a lack of food. In fact, some households have plenty to eat. The problem lies in “misguided feeding and care practices, poor sanitation and little access to health care.”
The report makes a number of recommendations.
“Putting in place programs that would educate mothers about simple things like breastfeeding, the exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Complimentary feed, adding small amounts of additional food from six months of age onward. Making sure mothers themselves during pregnancy get enough food, but also get enough rest and are free of infections,” she says.
The report says that the economies of many developing countries are growing at an annual rate of two to three percent. Improving nutrition, it says, could “potentially double” those rates.