the name of STUNTING

From May 17-18, UNICEF held a conference in New Delhi. When I left for habitat centre, I had only one goal in mind. Get there, find the right opportunity, talk to Ms. S and hopefully leave with an interview. All that did happen. And I am both ecstatic and relieved about summer, now.

However nice the day was for me, its true essence was ‘stunting’. Many of you, like me earlier, will be wondering what in heaven’s name is STUNTING. It sounds so dangerous. And you are right, it is so. UNICEF defines stunting as the percentage of children, aged 0 to 59 months, whose height for age is below minus two standard deviations (moderate and severe stunting) and minus three standard deviations (severe stunting) from the median of the WHO Child Growth Standards. What this means is, Stunting is the reduction of growth rate in human development.

Simple enough, right? Wrong. Stunting is a chronic condition caused as a result of malnutrition, mostly under-nutrition, of the child and mother. Like most dietary illnesses and issues stunting doesn’t just affect one aspect of human life. Stunting has been proven to be associated with long-lasting harmful consequences such as the underdevelopment of the brain, diminishing mental ability and learning capacity, poor school performance in childhood and reduced earnings as an adult. Not to mention the ones we hear every day like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. The disease is a cumulative effect of intergenerational poverty, poor maternal and early childhood nutrition and repeated episodes of childhood illnesses.

I know what you must be thinking, if stunting is such a major issue why haven’t we heard about. The reality is, stunting is a peculiar condition which earlier was harder to identify as it does its most damage between 1000 days of the child’s life. I don’t mean 1000 days after birth, I mean 1000 from the day of conception. That means that after the child’s second birthday it becomes irreversible. Not only that but since stunting is an issue of undernutrition it is mostly known to affect the ones less privileged i.e. the poorer countries of the world such as India and Nigeria.

Stunting is a syndrome where linear growth failure serves as a marker for multiple other pathological disorders. It increases morbidity and mortality. And unfortunately, it affects ~25% of children under the age of five globally. This is a grave issue for South Asia as 38% of the children in these countries are stunted, making it the epicentre of the illness. To worsen the matter the country affect most by stunting is India, with a reported 48 percent or 54 million stunted children i.e. one-third of the global total population of stunted children under the age of five.

In order to prevent stunting or at the very least reduce it, 3 main things have to be taken into account. Firstly, the history of parents- most importantly the mother. Stunted parents have a larger likelihood to reproduce an offspring with the same illness. When it comes to the mother, her diet during the pregnancy is very important for the child’s development just as her diet before the pregnancy. The nutritious deficiency she suffers from prior to the pregnancy accumulates and make it harder for the child to escape such a faith. This is even worse when the mother is anaemic which often the case in South Asia. Secondly, the child’s diet. Till about 6 months after birth, the child solely depends on breast milk. It is the period when the child is introduced to both solid and liquid foods as well as breast milk that is the most sensitive. As the nutritious value of the food and frequency matters. Therefore, a child must get both a balanced diet and regular feeding. Lastly, the cleanliness of the environment. Sanitation and hygiene play important roles as diseases such as diarrhea, fever and pneumonia further weakens the child and results in loss of more nutrients.

As you can see, stunting is neither a small issue nor does it lack consequences both early in life as well as later on. Therefore, it is important that we do our best against it. Other than governmental schemes that improve maternal and child nutrition, as well as bettering of infrastructures within the country; we as individuals have roles to play, such as:

·         Eating a good diet. Especially the female population i.e. the future mothers

·         Understanding and providing the dietary needs of children under the age of 5.

·         Hygiene and sanitation: public defecation and inadequate or wrong handwashing have to stop

·         Education: people have to be educated about stunting

·         Women empowerment: women who are educated, independent and self-thinkers will take charge of their lives and the lives of the unborn. In the end reducing stunting.

That's all for tonight's blabber folks. Remember 'we have to care today, for those we love to get tomorrow'.

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