"About 53 children under the age of five die in South Africa every day - and three-quaters of them do not live to see thier first birthday. Most of these children die of preventable causes - with malnutrition a key driver of under-five mortality in South Africa. A total of 31% of children who died in hospital between 2012 and 2013 were severely malnourished". (Mail & Guardian, December 2017, Hunger is still killing South Africa's children).
We all hope that our children will grow up to be healthy, happy and confident. But for many children these hopes are not fulfilled. Children who suffers from malnutrition do not grow properly and they fail to become as tall, as healthy or as clever as they should be.
Children can suffer from malnutrition if they get sick often, or do not have enough to eat. But a child who isn't loved and who nobody plays with is also vulnerable. As health workers, this means we need to look at the health of the whole child. Children needs more than good good to stay healthy - they also need a healthy environment and loving, healthy relationships.
Working with individual mothers and caregivers can address some of these problems, but there are other more serious obstacles to promoting the healthy growth and development of young children. Malnutrition has its roots in the broader inequalities of our society - poor living conditions, domestic violence, inadequate health care services, and the unfair distribution of food both within and between communities.
As individuals, we may feel powerless to change these things, but we all have some degree of control over our family's health and wellbeing. Health workers need to promote a culture of active citizenship where caregivers feel abole to take responsibility for the health of their families and communities - instead of waiting for others to provide better health for them.
We have put together a Food for Life Series, teaching communities the importance of nutrition amongst children. It covers 12 key messages that promote child growth and development. It explains why children need good food to grow strong and healthy and how we can best feed and care for our children to help them develop their full potential.
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