SEATTLE — Though world hunger is in decline, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, some 795 million people still struggle with food insecurity. Children make up one of the most vulnerable groups. Nutritious food is essential for developing children, and malnourished children experience impaired physical and mental development that may hinder them for the rest of their lives. Here are seven facts about malnourished children.
- In a major study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), researchers reported that 165 million children under the age of 5 were suffering from stunted growth. Another 101 million children were underweight for their age, and 52 million children under 5 were too thin for their height.
- Malnourished children are more likely to experience impaired mental development. Kids who don’t receive enough food during vital growth years are at risk for one or more of the following: impaired school performance, decreased IQ, memory deficiency, learning disabilities, reduced social skills, reduced language development and reduced problem-solving abilities.
- Child malnourishment often leads to a greater risk of contracting diseases. Children are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to outbreaks, particularly when facing unsanitary conditions and a lack of medical care.
- Severe hunger at a young age opens children up to health problems that can reduce their life expectancies. New research by the American Heart Association asserts that malnutrition in children can lead to high blood pressure and cardiac problems when they reach adulthood.
- Pregnant women and their babies are at greater risk from food insecurity. Malnourished pregnant women are more likely to contract illnesses like HIV, malaria and pneumonia and to pass them on to their children. Undernourished women and their babies are also less likely to survive childbirth.
- Malnourishment is the single largest factor contributing to the deaths of children under 5. Lack of food is the direct cause of death for some 3.1 million children each year, and hunger causes 45 percent of total child deaths under age 5.
- Children who suffer from hunger tend to make less money as adults. Their peers typically grow up physically larger and are often able to obtain higher levels of education. In turn, low-skill workforces contribute to economic stagnation in impoverished countries, leading to a vicious cycle ensnaring more and more children.
Reducing the effects of food shortages on children, especially those under the age of 5, is essential to their development. Malnourished children have a harder time becoming productive adults later in life.
By supporting food aid programs, developed nations can help ensure the stability of the international community in the future, while preventing some of the worst effects of childhood hunger.
– Will Sweger