According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014, Malnutrition situation among children under five years of age in Kenya shows that 290,000 (4%) are wasted, while 794,200 (11%) are underweight.
At the same time, 50 per cent of children aged 6-23 months are not receiving the minimum meal frequency.
The survey further indicates that two thirds of children are not receiving the minimum dietary diversity, while one in every five children (22%) are not receiving minimum acceptable diets.
The situation is no different in Kajiado County, whereby, one in every four children below five years is stunted, while in every 10, one is wasted and 22 in every 100 children are underweight, according to SMART survey which was conducted in 2018.
This is attributed to low uptake of exclusive breastfeeding and recommended complementary feeding and low coverage in intake of Vitamin ‘A’ supplementation.
The economic impact associated with underweight and stunted children is quite significant, with far reaching effects on Health, Education and Productivity.
According to Kajiado County Nutrition Coordinator, Ruth Nasinkoi, nutrition is a critical part of health and development.
Better nutrition is related to improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, and lower risk of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Malnutrition in early childhood interferes with physical and mental development, thus compromising human life.
“Children who are stunted below the age of five are more likely to underperform in school, while those with good nutrition have high IQ, hence, good performance in school. There is also reduced absenteeism and repetition as children are healthy,” said Nasinkoi.
The coordinator also notes that healthy children have high immunity, thus good child growth and development, which means low demand for health curative services.
“Undernourished children have a higher risk of illness and death often associated with incidences of diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, pneumonia, malaria and anaemia,” added Nasinkoi.
She notes that there are decreased costs of managing malnutrition related health conditions.
“It is important to note that for every Sh1 invested in nutrition, there is a Sh 22 return, which can be used for other development purposes,” she said.
Nasinkoi points that treating malnourished children is very expensive. One moderate case of malnutrition costs Sh, 5,000 to treat, while a severe case costs Sh 10,000.
Under nutrition in children, specifically stunting, has a negative impact on their productivity at later stages in life.
Children who escape stunting are 33 per cent more likely to escape poverty as adults.
Nasinkoi recommends that children should be fed with 7-10 food groups in a day.
The food groups which are categorized according to their health benefits are; grains and grain products, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds, dairy or milk products, eggs, fish and poultry meat, orange, yellow fruits and vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables.
Nasinkoi urges the government to make nutrition a top political priority, support the nutrition of women and children and to increase investments in nutrition.
“The Government should strengthen multi-sectoral platforms for nutrition sensitive interventions in; Water and sanitation, Education, social services and Agriculture & livestock and other line Departments,” said Nasinkoi.
The Kenyan Government has pledged to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030(SGD 2) and has a National Nutrition Action Plan 2018-2022.