Experts outline factors behind stunting in Njombe

NJOMBE: NJOMBE regional authorities on Saturday climaxed a six-day campaign aimed at combatting stunting among children.

Stunting is when a child has a low height for their age. This is usually due to malnutrition, repeated infections, and/or poor social stimulation.

The World Health Organisation categorises children who are stunted as those whose height is lower than average for their age, and at least two standard deviations below the WHO’s Child Growth Standards Median.

The real-world impacts of stunting ripple well beyond physical growth. A stunted child may also have poorer immune system, brain function, and organ development. Performing below-average in these areas may also limit their future productivity and threaten the health of their own children.

Factors that contribute to childhood stunting include poor nutrition and a lack of access to diverse foods, poor sanitation and lack of access to clean drinking water, lack of proper healthcare for children and their mothers, inadequate psychosocial stimulation and/or parent-infant bonding.

Malnutrition in childhood and pregnancy has many adverse consequences for child survival and long-term well-being. It also has far-reaching consequences for human capital, economic productivity, and national development overall.

While Tanzania is generally considered food secure in terms of production of staple food crops, malnutrition which significantly contributes to stunting is a major problem.

According to the 2015–16 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 34 per cent of children under 5 years were stunted, while 5 per cent were suffering from acute malnutrition (wasting or low weight-for-height). At the other extreme, 4 per cent were overweight.

Stunting increases markedly with a child’s age, reaching a level of 40 per cent or more among children 18–47 months of age. One in six children age 24-35 months were severely stunted. Stunting was higher in Tanzania Mainland (35 per cent) than in Zanzibar (24 per cent).

According to the 2018 SMART survey, 32 per cent of children under five years are stunted, which is a significant decrease from 35 per cent in 2014.

The most affected regions with a prevalence of stunting exceeding 40 per cent were Ruvuma (41 per cent), Iringa (47 per cent), Rukwa (48 percent), Kigoma (42 per cent), Njombe (54 per cent), and Songwe (43 per cent).

Very unfortunately, regions with high food availability are the ones with high stunting rate.

Experience shows that parents in those regions have been persistently giving children one or only two types of foods, completely ignoring other foods. For example, Njombe Region produces fruits and meat but the only preferred menu for families consists of either Ugali with Beans or Potatoes with Beans.

Njombe regional authorities have shown other regions the way to go. This should be a sustained campaign that must go with sensitisation session through public rallies, leaflets and community radios.

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