Vila Times

High rates of stunting in the Pacific

High rates of stunting in the Pacific
High rates of stunting in the Pacific
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By Pita Ligaiula in Nadi

Study shows the Pacific has stagnant or rising rates of stunting in children.

This was revealed by Wendy Erasmus, UNICEF Pacific Chief of Health and Nutrition during her presentation on the ‘Triple Burden of Malnutrition in Young Children of the Pacific’.

Wendy says nutrition is an essential precondition for early childhood development.

“The most prevalent nutritional threats in the Pacific to early childhood development cut across both undernutrition and overnutrition: stunting, micronutrient deficiency especially anaemia and overweight and obesity. The triple burden of malnutrition explains that these forms can be present at the same time in the same child, the same household and in the country.

Stunting is a measure of chronic undernutrition and it is determined by a shortness for age in children under five years old,” she told regional delegates and participants at the Pacific Early Childhood Development (ECD) Forum in Nadi.

Wendy said the only way to determine stunting is by comparing the child’s height with their age.

“Stunting represents growth faltering within the first 1,000 days of a child’s life – these first 1,000 days start at the point of conception and span until the child is 2 years old.

It is within these days that stunting is preventable – after that it is largely irreversible. But stunting is more than short stature, it is also represents impaired growth in the brain,” she said.

Wendy told the Forum that five countries in the region have no data on stunting – these include Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, FSM and Palau.

She said countries that have low stunting prevalence include Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

“The first thing that is noticeable is that out of the 15 countries here today, five are missing – they don’t have data on stunting so we don’t know. Three countries have low rates of stunting. But of the 10 countries that have data, 60% of those countries have stunting rates that are high or very high,” said Wendy.

There are many factors that contribute to stunting. Most immediately are diets and care for women and children.

Underlying those are:

*Poor sanitation
*Limited diversity of diet: fruits and vegetables
*Low nutrient foods
*Low rates of breastfeeding
*High rates of childhood infection
*Weak food systems.

Wendy said between 2000 and 2016 most regions have seen a drop in stunting except for the Pacific.

“What we see is alarming. Stunting in Africa has dropped by 18%. Stunting in Asia has dropped by 37% and in Latin America and the Caribbean by 40%.

But what we see in the Pacific is stagnant or rising rates of stunting,” she said.

Global targets for stunting and anaemia are to reduce these burdens by 50% and to increase exclusive breastfeeding to 70%. To achieve these targets Pacific countries must take coordinated multi-sectoral action to introduce and implement at scale high impact double duty interventions.