Uganda tackles obesity, malnutrition and stunting

Wednesday March 28 2018



An obese woman. PHOTO FILE | NATION

An obese woman. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

By EVELYN LIRRI
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The number of children suffering stunting has reduced but overall malnutrition still remains high, the final Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016 report by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics shows.

The prevalence of stunting among children under the age of five has declined from 45 per cent in 2000 to 29 per cent in 2016.

However, there has been a less drastic decline in the proportion of children who are underweight — 16 per cent of children aged below five are underweight compared with 18 per cent in 2000.

Another four per cent of children in the same age bracket are too thin for their height.

Stunting happens when children experience poor nutrition, suffer disease and lack psychosocial stimulation. It often occurs before a child reaches the age of two.

Stunting can have long-term effects including poor performance in school, lost productivity and an increased risk of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases in adulthood such as diabetes and hypertension.

The southwestern region has the highest percentage of stunted children at 41 per cent, while Kampala has the lowest rate at 18 per cent.

Addressing malnutrition is part of the Sustainable Development Goal Two that countries have committed to, with the aim of ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition by 2030.

While the number of overweight or obese children might be low — at four per cent, the numbers are worrying, according to Albert Lule, the principal nutritionist at the Ministry of Health.

“We need to fight childhood obesity by reducing consumption of fast foods. Malnutrition must be fought the same way we fought tobacco smoking,” he said.

Mr Lule noted that unless obesity in children is addressed now, it could lead to an increase in non-communicable diseases in adulthood, bearing huge implications in terms of healthcare costs and pressure on public resources.

The rate of overweight and obesity in adults stood at 24 per cent for women and 9 per cent for men aged between 15 and 49, with people from wealthier households more likely to be overweight compared with their poorer counterparts.

The report also highlights a strong correlation between a mother’s level of education and the likelihood of her child becoming stunted.

Among uneducated mothers, malnutrition levels in their children stood at 35 per cent while for those with primary school level education, the rate was 30 per cent. For mothers who received education beyond secondary school, stunting among children was lower at about 10 per cent.