What you need to know about malnutrition & feeding children

'Feed the children’ is so much more than just a key phrase; it is an urgent necessity to address malnutrition in vulnerable and under-resourced communities.

Fundraising team
20 October 2020

Across the world, as COVID-19 has affected every household and community, health systems have not been adequately prepared for its devastating impact. SA is no exception. Millions of children have been left vulnerable, exposed, and unable to receive the healthcare and nutrition they need to survive and thrive. ‘Feed the children’ is more than just a catchy phrase - it is a very present challenge that needs to be addressed.

 Dr Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, is passionate about children’s rights to basic health and nutrition:We believe there is simply no better investment for future economic development than investing in nutrition. In the bodies, brains and futures of tomorrow’s citizens — and in the economic potential of entire countries and regions.”

Humanitarian organizations are committed to realising the rights of all children to help them build a strong foundation and have the best chance of fulfilling their potential. They do this because our collective future depends on it. This begins with providing adequate nutrition in vulnerable communities so that they can grow, play and learn. 

Malnutrition can be a misunderstood term that doesn’t do justice to the reality of its impact or the horror of its effects among children. The statistics tell a tragic story:

  • More than half of South Africa’s children continue to live below the poverty line, 
  • Chronic malnutrition is an underlying cause for half the childhood deaths in SA,
  • 1.5 million children (1 in 3) are stunted,
  • About 75 000 children are obese, and 
  • 30% of children live in households where no adults are employed and have little or no access to a daily healthy diet. 

The devastating effects of COVID-19 have further exacerbated the impact on households across South Africa, disrupting nutrition interventions and impacting school feeding schemes. Feeding children becomes a vital concern.

UNICEF South Africa/2013/Schermbrucker

‘Feed the children’ - What you need to know

  • Malnutrition is the lack of proper nutrition, not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right foods and eating too much of certain foods. 
  • Malnutrition refers to both undernutrition and overnutrition.
  • Undernutrition includes wasting (low weight-for-height: when a child is too thin for his/her height), stunting (low height-for-age: when a child is too short for his/her height) and underweight (low-weight-for age: when a child is not gaining adequate weight according to his/her age)
  • Overnutrition refers to obesity, where there is an overconsumption of certain nutrients such as proteins, calories and fat. 
  • Malnutrition is a serious condition and is as a result of poor diet, nutrition deficiencies and an imbalance in the intake of nutrients.

Undernutrition makes children more vulnerable to disease and death, and a young child who is moderately or severely wasted is at a much higher risk. Poor socio-economic conditions and poor maternal health and child feeding in the early years leave many children stunted and wasted, unable to reach their physical and cognitive potential. 

‘Feed the children’ - Damage control

Despite many positive strides made in nutrition interventions targeted to children, national school nutrition programme initiatives, and breastfeeding awareness campaigns, COVID-19 has resulted in a major setback, straining healthcare services and accessibility.   

With the school closures during the lockdown, and multiple ECD centres not reopening, millions of South African children are at an increased risk of not receiving the healthcare and nutrition they need to survive and thrive. 

Food scarcity, feeding infrequency and a lack of dietary diversity are serious impediments to healthy levels of child nutrition. Empowering children begins with well-nourished children who are better able to grow, thrive, learn, participate in and contribute to their communities.

UNICEF South Africa/2015/Schermbrucker

The phrase, ‘Feed the children,’ is so much more than just a slogan; it is an urgent necessity in vulnerable and under-resourced communities across our country. It is something we cannot ignore if we are intent on delivering a future for all children in South Africa. 

‘Feed the children’ - UNICEF SA

UNICEF South Africa is for every child and is committed to every child surviving and thriving. Our humanitarian campaigns are working to reduce the malnutrition statistics among our children - ensuring that the most vulnerable children are prioritised in receiving nutrition interventions, including food relief packages in the form of food parcels that meet certain nutritional standards.

Change in Action is a current UNICEF South Africa initiative intent on empowering children in the areas of health and nutrition, education and protection. #MOVE4CHANGE was a campaign focused on child nutrition to ensure every child in South Africa has access to a healthier future. 

Taking action and pledging your support is the start of making that happen and changing children’s lives. It is so simple. 

Become a donor