A stitch in time saves nine

A Prophylactic Story – as told by “Uncle” Norman

In their online publication The Changing Faces of Malnutrition UNICEF poses the question: “why are so many children eating too little of what they need, while an increasing number of children are eating too much of what they don’t need?”. This of course should compel us to reflect on how our failure to respond to this question, has led to the triple burden of malnutrition, faced by South African children, of (i) micronutrient deficiencies and the co-existence of (ii) undernutrition and (iii) overnutrition. Sadly, the triple burden of malnutrition can be as a result of, while at the same time also be a contributing factor to the broader socioeconomic triple challenge of (i) poverty, (ii) unemployment and (iii) inequality.

At this point (if you have or form part of a set triples), you are probably thinking that having three of anything, may be a bad omen. Don’t worry, it’s just a coincidence, but surprisingly, there is some correlation between these triple factors.

How is there any correlation and what is it?

While some of us debate with and amongst ourselves, as to whether or not we eat to live, or we live to eat, it is worth acknowledging that there is an alarming number of children – who live in large household sized families, that are multidimensionally and income poor, and within which few adults are gainfully employed, due to the unremitting identity linked social inequalities – whose precarious relationship with food is best articulated in the song Food, Glorious Food, from the 1968 musical Oliver or the 2006 film Ice Age: The Meltdown (it’s a generational thing). These children are more often than not, malnourished, while at the same time suffering from multiple poverty related deprivations (inappropriate waste disposal services and drinking water source in their communities, long distances to the nearest health centres, poor and variable access to early childhood education, and living in shelters with roofs, walls and floors made out of rudimentary and non-permanent materials).

So, what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Or more candidly, what is the social impact and cumulative cost of malnutrition on the global economy?

Well, according to UNICEF: “malnutrition (undernutrition, overnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies) can cause permanent, widespread damage to a child’s growth, development and well-being. That stunting in the first 1,000 days is associated with poorer performance in school, both because malnutrition affects brain development, and also because malnourished children are more likely to get sick and miss school. While hidden hunger can cause blindness (vitamin A deficiency), impair learning (iodine deficiency) and increase the risk of a mother dying in childbirth (iron deficiency). Lastly, overweight and obesity can lead to serious illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

And this disruption to children’s physical and cognitive development stays with them into adulthood, compromising their economic prospects and putting their futures at risk. Collectively, the loss of potential and productivity has huge implications for the broader socio-economic development of societies and nations. It undermines countries’ ability to develop ‘human capital’, or the overall levels of education, training, skills, and health in a population”.

It is often said that “a stitch in time saves nine” to express that it’s better to spend a little time and effort to deal with a problem right away than to wait until later, when it may get worse and take longer to deal with.

So, here is some food for thought. Either we (in our individual capacity or as a collective) find tangible and sustainable solutions, when answering why so many children are eating too little of what they need, while an increasing number of children are eating too much of what they don’t need, or we as a society, will collectively have to pay the price.