The period between gestation and six years is the most significant part of the life cycle of the child. This is when their cognitive and physical future is decided. According to the Lancet Series 2013, nutrition-related factors are responsible for up to 45 per cent of all child mortality globally.
UNICEF considers poor nutrition as one of the main drivers of high maternal and child mortality figures. Even when malnutrition is not directly responsible for deaths, the nutrition status negatively influences other diseases, aggravating the poor physical condition of children and women. However, malnutrition is the least addressed public health problem in Zambia, despite being the most widespread.
In Zambia, the prevalence rate of stunting is 40 per cent. A further 9 per cent of children have a low birth weight of less than 2.5 kg. This is indicative of intra-uterine growth retardation and maternal malnutrition. In most instances, this is not something that is detected, as a large number of newborns are not weighed at birth. Micronutrient deficiencies are also common among children in Zambia. Anaemia, which is a severe public health issue, has not seen any significant reduction among children between the ages of 6 - 59 months over the past two decades. The latest national micronutrient survey indicates a vitamin A deficiency prevalence of 54 per cent among children under five. In addition, the 2013 National Iodine Deficiency Impact Survey indicates only 53 per cent of households consume adequately iodised salt.
Nutrition issues in numbers:
- 40 per cent of children under five years stunted
- 65 per cent of children breasted within one hour of birth
- 73 per cent of children 0-6 months exclusively breastfed
- 53 per cent of population consuming adequately iodised salt at household level
- 60 per cent prevalence of anaemia in children aged 6-59 months
Nutrition is an essential component of economic growth and development. The economic consequences of malnutrition represent losses of 11 per cent of gross domestic product every year in Africa and Asia, whereas preventing malnutrition delivers US$16 in returns on investment for every one dollar spent.