GROUNDUP - The nutritional status of South Africa’s children is deteriorating. One in four children under the age of five is stunted, a sign of chronic undernutrition that has remained unchanged for 20 years.
Over the same period, South Africa has seen a steady increase in children being overweight or obese. One in eight children under the age of five is overweight or obese, double the global average. About 27% of children are also not getting enough exercise.
These were some of the findings of the 2020 South African Child Gauge, published annually by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The latest 200-page issue focused on nutrition and food security.
The researchers found that 30% percent of South Africa’s children live below the food poverty line, which means being in a household with a per capita income of less than R571 per month. The extent and impact of maternal buffering, when mothers act as “shock absorbers”, deliberately limiting their own consumption to ensure that children have enough to eat, emerged as a coping strategy during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Covid-19 has intensified these existing challenges and is expected to precipitate a 14% increase in the global prevalence of moderate and severe acute malnutrition, the researchers say. By December 2020, child hunger had increased by 50% in South Africa, with 1 in 6 households reporting that children had gone hungry in the last seven days because there wasn’t enough food.
Emerging evidence points to a clear association between poverty, food insecurity, domestic violence and common mental disorders that undermine mothers’ capacity to respond and care for their children, and these pressures intensified during lockdown, the researchers say. Three million jobs were lost between February and June 2020 - with women accounting for 60% of jobs lost during the first wave. Yet, they are less likely than men to benefit from UIF and the Covid-19 relief grant, say the authors of the Child Gauge.