Friday, May 18, 2012

Honduras: Are high food prices fueling child malnutrition?

World Bank blog
Recently, I was once again confronted with a puzzling situation I have seen too often during the course of my career: flat growth curves for children. This especially worried me in light of the current context of rising food prices and global economic instability, and the impact that previous crises have had on the nutritional status of mothers and children.
I was on a supervision mission for a Bank-supported nutrition program, in the remote mountain community of Chinacla in Honduras.  Little 20-month old Ana (in the picture) had not gained weight for 8 months in a row, and her growth curve consistently demonstrates that she is malnourished.  She is pale, weary, and cannot perform the simple task of scribbling with a pen on a piece of paper.  Ana’s mother, who is no more than 5 feet tall, listens with teary eyes to the volunteer and swears she is following her advice of regularly giving food to her daughter. The volunteer reports that the little girl has been referred several times to the nearest health center, but the doctor always says that she is fine.  Ana’s mother has been devotedly taking her to monthly health education sessions, where she is weighed and dedicated community volunteers assess her motor and cognitive development.  So, why is she not gaining weight?
Somehow, Ana is not receiving the care she needs.  Whether it is more food, more vitamins and minerals, treating an underlying infection or illness, or just better care at home, somehow the health system has not been able to adequately respond to the problem of her stagnant weight.
Unfortunately, Ana’s case of is not an exception.  Honduras is facing high level of chronic malnutrition. In some of the poorest Honduran communities, almost 1 out of 2 children are too short for their age.  On the other hand, overweight rates in children in the country have greatly increased in the last few years.  Thus, as in many Latin American countries, more and more children in Honduras are “short and chubby”.  
Sadly, chronic malnutrition in Honduras is even higher than in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  This situation has disastrous impact on human and economic growth and contributes to keeping the country into poverty.   Losses to GDP in the country due to under nutrition are estimated to be as high as US$400 million (roughly 2 to 3 percent of the country’s GDP, according to World Bank data).  
Read more here.

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