Stop, stop, stop the stunting!!

By Dr. Farah Akram

Dramatic heading? Well this topic needs all the drama and attention it can get. It concerns us all and it will take all of us and some really serious motivation to change the situation.

Our children, the children of Pakistan are in trouble, really serious trouble! Physically, mentally and emotionally! Due to poor feeding practices, unhygienic surroundings and lack of education and awareness, we are making thousands of innocent children suffer all across Pakistan.

Pakistan ranks 3rd highest country with stunted growth among children under the age of 5, with a stunting prevalence of 44%!! This is NOT a race we want to win!!

For those who do not know what stunting is, let me explain. Stunting, as defined by the UNICEF, refers to UNDERDEVELOPMENT and poor growth due to chronic UNDERNUTRITION of children during the most CRITICAL periods of growth and development. A child is stunted if his/her height is below minus 2 standard deviations (moderate stunting) to minus 3 standard deviations (severe stunting) than the WHO growth standards. And right now I am not including those who are underweight or wasting from malnutrition.

Why do we need to be scared of stunting??????? Because it impacts physical development, emotional development, brain development…the list goes on and on. This goes on to poor school attendance and performance, decreased productivity as an individual, and decreased productivity on a national level. Stunted children are listless and too tired to enjoy life’s pleasures, hence reduced ability to regulate emotions often leading to anxiety and depression later on.

Did you know? A stunted child has 4 times higher risk of dying!

So how do we stop stunting? First step is becoming aware and raising awareness of the causes! What are these causes, you ask? Here is the list:

  1. Poor care of the mother during and after pregnancy.
  2. Lack of exclusive breastfeeding.
  3. Inappropriate formula feeding.
  4. Inappropriate timing and selection of complementary foods.
  5. Poor hygiene – practices and surroundings.

One article is not enough to address all these issues and definitely more articles will follow this. I will try to highlight the main issues to the best of my abilities.

Mothers…the word that warms the heart, brightens the eyes, and lightens whatever burden we carry… Why then do we fail to take care of the mothers of our nation?!! Poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy directly affects the developing fetus. Vitamin and iron deficiencies are common and supplements are routinely prescribed but more often than not, families are too poor to buy them or spend the money elsewhere, not understanding the significance of the impact of these deficiencies.

After delivery, focus is on returning to work – be it in the kitchen or outside. Formula feeding is preferred over breastfeeding and that needs to change right now!

Pakistan’s prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a newborn is less than 37%. This is seriously shocking! Just because breastmilk does not come in a fancy labelled box with a long list of vitamins and minerals does not mean it loses its superiority over formula milk  

Even for those returning to work, there is always a way around obstacles. The importance and benefits of breastfeeding cannot be stressed enough!

Breastfeeding is a God-given gift and right of all mothers and babies and the people of Pakistan need to recognize its contribution to the health of our families. This article is NOT food for thought for mothers only…fathers, in-laws, parents of mothers… everyone needs to work together to ensure our children get what is best for them.

Change is long overdue and the future generation of Pakistan needs us, our help, and our support to grow and flourish.

The statistics in this article were taken from a report by UNICEF. Reference: Improving child nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress. UNICEF. 2013.

About Author:

Dr Farah Akram. May Allah guide us to all that is good and right. Ameen.


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