Defeating hunger and malnutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic is a crucial long-term and sustainable assignment. This assertion will be examined in two ways. First, is how to arrest any worsening of hunger and malnutrition during a global pandemic? Second, is how to implement successfully workable socio-economic measures to improve existing protocols for hunger and malnutrition prevention?
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted schooling. According to UNICEF, the result of the disruption is the closure of schools around the world. Consequently, having a negative impact on children’s right to adequate food. Presently, more than 350 million schoolchildren in countries with nationwide closures are being denied access to regular school feeding and nutrition services. And keeping in mind that adequate nutrition is essential for schoolchildren’s health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, many of the children who normally benefit from school feeding programmes may already be nutrient deficient, vulnerable, or at risk.
What Are Hunger & Malnutrition?
There is no doubt we all feel hungry at times. And hunger is the body’s signal that it needs food. But once we have eaten enough food to satisfy our bodies’ needs, hunger goes away. At least until our stomachs are empty again.
Now, malnutrition is not the same thing as hunger, although they often go together. For instance, people with malnutrition lack the nutrients needed for health and development. So, someone can be malnourished for a long or short period of time. And the condition may be mild or severe. Consequently, malnourished people are more likely to get sick, and in severe cases, may even die.
Sadly, the glaring fact is that many people in the world can’t get enough to eat when they are hungry most of the time. Therefore they are at risk of malnutrition. In this case, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that hunger is a problem for one in every seven people on earth. This includes 153 million children.
Effect Of Hunger On Health
Hunger and malnutrition can cause significant health problems. For instance, people who go hungry all the time are likely to be underweight. That is, they weigh significantly less than the average person of their size. In addition, their growth may also be stunted, making them much shorter than average.
Furthermore, people can be underweight or short because they have an illness or because of their genetic makeup. The WHO has identified being underweight as one of the top ten risks to health in the world. As a matter of fact, globally, as many as 27% of children younger than age 5 are underweight. For the most part, children who are 6 to 24 months old.
What Causes Hunger and Malnutrition?
Not enough food and nutrients
The fact is if you don’t get enough food often, you will experience hunger. And hunger can lead to malnutrition over the long term. Although, you can be malnourished for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. And of course, even people who have plenty to eat may be malnourished. Particularly, if they do not eat food that provides the right nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and in the right quantity.
Lastly, and most crucial is if a person does not get enough of one specific nutrient, that alone is a form of malnutrition. Granting the person may not become seriously ill, the most common form of malnutrition in the world is iron deficiency. This deficiency affects up to 80% of the world’s population – as many as 4 to 5 billion people. You will find iron in foods like red meat, egg yolks, fortified flour, bread, and cereal.
Underlying health Issues
Furthermore, some people are malnourished because they have a disease or condition that prevents them from digesting or absorbing their food properly. Three of these conditions are listed below:
- Someone with celiac disease has intestinal problems that are triggered by a protein called gluten. This is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats.
- Children with cystic fibrosis have trouble absorbing nutrients. This is because the disease affects the pancreas. An organ that normally produces enzymes that are necessary for digestion.
- Children who are lactose intolerant have difficulty digesting milk and other dairy products. So, by avoiding dairy products they are at higher risk of malnutrition. Since milk and dairy, products provide 75% of the calcium in foods being eliminated.
Who Is At Risk For Hunger And Malnutrition?
All over the world, people who are poor or who live in poverty-stricken areas are at the greatest risk for hunger and malnutrition.
In poor countries, wars and natural disasters such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, and pandemic may also contribute to hunger and malnutrition. At least for the reasons that these disasters disrupt normal food production and distribution.
People who lack nutrients
On a broader basis, malnutrition affects people of every age, although infants, children, and adolescents may suffer the most. As many nutrients are critical for growth and development. In addition, older people may develop malnutrition. In the meantime, ageing, illness, and other factors may lead to a poor appetite, so they may not eat enough.
Alcohol can interfere with nutrient absorption. Therefore, alcoholics may not benefit from the vitamins and minerals they consume. In addition, people who abuse drugs may also be malnourished or underweight because they do not eat properly.
Having anorexia, bulimia, or another eating disorder may also put someone at greater risk of malnutrition. Children or teens with anorexia do not take in sufficient quantities of food. While, those with bulimia purge themselves, by vomiting or with laxatives, before they can digest the food they eat and benefit from the nutrients.
Children and teens on special diets need to ensure they eat balanced meals and a variety of foods to get the right nutrients. For example, vegetarians and vegans need to make sure they get enough protein and vitamins like B12.
Treatment For Children Who Are Malnourished
In defeating hunger and malnutrition, the good news is that many of the harmful effects of malnutrition can be reversed. Especially if a child is only mildly malnourished or malnourished for a short period of time. If you think your child is not getting enough of the right nutrients, talk to your child’s doctor. The treatment for malnutrition depends on its cause. Therefore your doctor may,
- Perform a physical exam and ask about the types and amounts of food your child eats.
- Recommend specific changes in the types and quantities of foods your child eats.
- Prescribe dietary supplements, such as vitamins and minerals.
- Help you and your child find ways to get the necessary nutrients. This will be in a situation where there is an underlying problem causing malnutrition.
Although most people in developed countries, including children, have never known true, long-term hunger. Nevertheless, the impact of COVID-19 is felt hardest by the world’s most vulnerable children, where the risk of hunger and malnutrition is high. This is because many already live in poverty. And the negative effect of COVID-19 is plunging them further into hardship.
So, in the task of defeating hunger and malnutrition, it is important for the government to improve social protection measures. For the most part, during this COVID-19 new normal situation, where millions of parents have lost their income and source of livelihood.
Hence, in defeating hunger and malnutrition during COVID-19, the socio-economic treatment proposed are workable and doable. For instance, these economic reliefs should:
- Provide social safety nets and cash transfers.
- Protect jobs.
- Work with employers to support families.
- Implement prioritised policies that link families to life-saving health care, nutrition, and education.
Healthy eating treatment
Finally, defeating hunger and malnutrition during COVID-19 means also ensuring your child eats healthy, in spite of the new normal circumstance. For instance, let’s assume your child seems to live on doughnuts, or bread, jam, and peanut sandwiches or turns her nose at the sight of vegetables. Sometimes, these food choices can seem as though she is not eating enough to stay healthy. But the fact is you probably don’t need to worry. This is unless, of course, she is not growing at a rate that is normal for her age. Over time, most fussy eaters do get enough calories and nutrients to meet their needs.
So as a parent, the best thing you can do to ensure that your child is properly nourished is to offer a variety of healthy foods. Try to limit unhealthy snacks, and ensure she takes plenty of fluids (not sugary drinks). If at the end of the day you are still worried that your child’s energy level is lagging. Or that she is not growing as fast as other children of the same age. Then share your concerns with your child’s doctor.
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