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14% of children in the United Arab Emirates starving

14% of children in United Arab Emirates are starving

14% of children in United Arab Emirates are starving
Other surprising facts about starvation presented in Lancet
Tufts University
May 23, 2006

Five Surprising Facts About Starvation That Could Change The International Agenda

While public attention gravitates towards conflict and natural disaster, many people in countries less affected by such events struggle with some of the same nutrition problems as those in crisis. In a “Viewpoint” published in The Lancet, Rainer Gross, PhD, UNICEF’s chief of nutrition, and Patrick Webb, PhD, dean for academic affairs at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, discuss five facts about world hunger, children and wasting, a condition that represents severe malnutrition.

Wasting is defined by a low weight-to-height ratio; it is visible in the form of skeletally thin children usually found in the middle of a famine. The authors note that a public health disaster is generally declared if more than 15% of the children in a country suffer from wasting. Gross and Webb analyzed countries with the highest child mortality rates and child wasting rates. Based on their assessment of the data, the authors present five surprising facts about severe children malnutrition and argue that such conditions must be resolved in non-emergency settings to prevent future public health crises.

First, contrary to popular belief, Africa does not have the most children suffering from wasting. “Although in the past 10 years, every subregion of Africa saw a rise in both the number of wasted children under the age of five and in the overall rate of wasting, about 78% of the world’s 5.5 million wasted children live in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; nearly two thirds of those in India alone,” says Webb.

Secondly, the absence of conflict, such as political instability, does not prevent or resolve wasting in children. When the authors compared countries without recent conflict to countries that have recently emerged from periods of conflict or remain continually unstable, they found that, “… stability, economic growth, and even political transparency are not in themselves sufficient factors to overcome the persistence of wasting in marginalized vulnerable groups.” Wasting is a complex condition that is not simply caused by conflict or famine alone. Gross and Webb conclude that “effective, targeted actions are needed as part of the development agenda.”

Children in Madagascar. Photo by R. Butler

Life expectancy below 40 for some African countries, global population growth rates slow Children born in six African countries can expect to die before their 41st birthday while kids born in 16 countries can expect to live past 80 according to an annual report released by the UN’s World Health Organization. The report, “World Health Report 2006 – Working together for health”, released earlier this month reveals a widening between the quality of life for the world’s poorest and richest people.

Super Staples: Africa seeks bioengineered food solutions African scientists, in conjunction with research facilities in the United States, are working toward developing super strains of traditional nutritional staples in Africa. This project was stimulated in part by the Grand Challenges program, which seeks to tackle major problems associated with global health. The program has an operating budget of $500 million primarily from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has contributed $450 million. The United Kingdom’s The Wellcome Trust and the Canadian government have also contributed, $27 million and $4.5 million, respectively to the program. This sum will be divided among 43 individual projects designed to address and ideally, conquer these problems.

203 million people malnourished in sub-Saharan Africa Hunger and malnutrition are killing nearly six million children each year — a figure that roughly equals the entire pre-school population of a large country such as Japan, FAO said in a new edition of its annual hunger report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World, published today.

“Gray Corps” of senior citizens could help fight poverty, health problems in developing world Americans are wealthier and older than ever before. According to recent data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, the proportion of the population aged 65 years and over is projected to increase from 12.4% in 2000 to 19.6% in 2030. In counting numbers, this means the number of persons aged 65 and older is expected to increase from approximately 35 million in 2000 to an estimated 71 million in 2030, while the number of persons aged 80 and older is expected to increase from 9.3 million in 2000 to 19.5 million in 2030. What these adults will do when they retire from the work force remains to be seen. While many will continue working until ages considerably older than previous generations, many will seek a comfortable retirement. Some, however, will want to devote a portion of their time to helping the less fortunate. It is this growing segment of the population that could be key to addressing a number of looming social issues both here in the United States and abroad.

Third, HIV does not appear yet to contribute substantially and directly to severe wasting in children, although the authors state that “as the pandemic progresses, high HIV/AIDS rates will contribute to worsening nutrition, both from the direct effects of the disease and from an indirect impact on household food security and childcare. Without dual action against wasting and HIV/AIDS, the deadly synergy of these two factors is likely to grow in coming years.”

Fourth, political and economic growth do not always automatically improve child nutrition. According to the authors, “wealth creation at a national level does not preclude the persistence of wasting on a large scale.” For example, the United Arab Emirates, a wealthy country, has a wasting rate of 14%. “Similarly,” state the authors, “both India and Brazil have shown remarkable rates of economic growth without proportional gains in the nutritional status of poorer people in their society.”

Finally, Gross and Webb state that the development agenda must tackle child wasting in order to make a lasting impact on human well- being. “The problem of wasting needs to be addressed wherever it is identified, not just in emergencies,” says Webb. “Wasting in emergencies represents the tip of the iceberg,” write the authors.

“Ironically, the international community has become much more adept at saving the lives of wasted children in the context of catastrophes than in the context of typical development,” state the authors.

The authors give several examples of development that will reduce the chronic undernutrition that results in wasting of children. These include improving nutrition in pregnant and lactating women to prevent low-birthweight babies, effective protection against infectious disease, improved water and sanitation systems, promotion of breastfeeding during an infant’s first six months, enhanced health and nutrition information for parents, and micronutrient supplementation.

“The wasted child cannot wait,” conclude the authors. “Millions of children need immediate, life-saving attention coupled with coordinated longer-term investments that will help prevent repetitions of nutrition and health insults as they grow into adulthood. The world cannot afford to waste another decade talking about global targets, waiting for the macro-effects of economic and political development to reach children ignored by the development process.”

Patrick Webb served as chief of nutrition for the United Nations World Food Programme until August 2005. Previously, he was a member of the Steering Committee of the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition and of the Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger. Webb serves as a member of the board of the International Nutrition Foundation and is focal point for academic outreach for the World Food Programme. Webb was also the chair of a World Health Organization expert advisory panel on household food and nutrition security.

Reference: Gross R, Webb P. The Lancet, 2006, 367 (April 8, 2006): 1209-1211. “Wasting time for wasted children: severe child undernutrition must be resolved in non-emergency settings.”

This is a modified news release from Tufts University

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