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Malnutrition continues to rise in Africa
November 26, 2017, 3:28 pm

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa has just released a new report — Africa Nutrition Report — which reveals among other things that under-nutrition continues to persist in the region, and that the number of stunted children is on the increase. Ironically, the report also indicates that a growing number of children under five years old are overweight.

The Report describes the current status in relation to six global nutrition targets that member states have committed to achieve by 2025, and underscores findings from the recently released Global Nutrition Report.

The nutrition targets call for a 40 percent reduction in the number of children under-five who are stunted, 50 percent reduction of anemia in women of reproductive age, 30 percent reduction in low birth weight, no increase in childhood overweight, increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 percent and reducing wasting syndrome to less than 5 percent.

The Report, the first of its kind by WHO in the African region uses data from national surveys of forty-seven countries dating as far back as 2000, as well as joint malnutrition estimates published annually by UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank.

According to the WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, "The numbers and trends highlighted in the report show that we need to work harder to avoid the long-term consequences of malnutrition and poor health on our children's future prosperity, including the increased risk of diet-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension."

The Report points out that while the prevalence of stunting decreased between 2000 and 2016, the absolute numbers of stunted children are in fact increasing: from 50.4 million in 2000 to 58.5 million in 2016.

Stunting, or impaired growth and development happens when children experience poor nutrition, disease and lack of psychosocial stimulation. It typically occurs before a child reaches the age of two, and the long-term consequences include poor school performance, low adult wages, lost productivity and increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adults. Stunting also has economic implications; worldwide, between 3 to 16 percent of GDP is lost annually due to stunting alone.

Wasting, or low-weight compared to the height of a child, is a strong predictor of mortality among children under five. The Report finds that many countries in the African region still have wasting rates above the target of 5 percent or below, and persistent famine, flooding, and civil crises in some countries pose enduring challenges to meeting the target.

While overweight rates in African children might still be low, the proportion and numbers are increasing in all age groups. Joint UNICEF, WHO and World Bank 2016 estimates show that the number of overweight children in Africa increased by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2015. The Report found that 24 countries have rates between 3 and 10 percent, while 5 countries have rates above this range: Algeria (12.4 percent), Botswana (11.2 percent), Comoros (10.9 percent), South Africa (10.9 percent) and Seychelles (10.2 percent).

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