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Data indicate that programs to improve the nutrition of children less than five years have been effective.
Data indicate that programs to improve the nutrition of children less than five years have been effective.

Efforts to Allay Childhood Malnutrition Paying Off

Recent studies show that the prevalence of a low height-for-age resulting from poor nutrition among children stands at 6.8%, down from 20% almost two decades ago

Efforts to Allay Childhood Malnutrition Paying Off

In the past two decades, the rate of stunting in children under five has decreased by over 50% and underweight in this age bracket has seen a 70% decline, according to a Health Ministry official.
Recent studies show that the prevalence of a low height-for-age resulting from poor nutrition among children stands at 6.8%, down from 20% almost two decades ago.
Furthermore, the frequency of low weight-for-age from malnutrition has fallen from 17% to 4%, ILNA reported.
Stunting and underweight are conditions of impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation. Children are defined as stunted or underweight if their height/weight-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the World Health Organization’s Child Growth Standards median.    
“Data indicate that programs to improve the nutrition of children less than five years have been effective,” said Zahra Abdollahi, director general of Diet and Nutrition Promotion Office at the ministry.
Besides the health system, cooperation with Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF), the Literacy Movement Organization (LMO) and the Social Welfare Organization (SWO) helped considerably, she added.
Child malnutrition in deprived regions has also been ameliorated to a considerable degree thanks to measures in the past two decades, although those areas still have a long ways ahead before catching up with the levels in developed regions.
In Sistan-Baluchestan Province, for instance, the prevalence of diet-related stunting has dropped below 20%, down from 40% 20 years ago.
“Addressing children’s malnutrition is integral to our plans to enhance nutrition in less privileged provinces,” says Abdollahi.
As part of the Health Reform Plan, nutritionists at comprehensive health centers regularly monitor children’s dietary patterns, their weight and height for malnutrition.
Those who are diagnosed with growth impairment receive special care, including counseling for mothers about the child’s diet and provision of free supplements for micronutrients.
Also, children suffering from malnutrition due to poverty are referred to the IKRF to receive free food baskets whose contents have been determined by nutrition experts in accordance with the region’s local cuisine.
“Studies have shown that between 40% and 70% of children with malnutrition and growth impairment improve to a fair degree by supplements and dietary counseling,” Abdollahi was quoted as saying.
Also, in cooperation with the SWO, around 6,000 nurseries in rural areas offer one hot meal a day for children between the ages of three and six. The type of food is decided by a nutritionist. Educators are also trained by Health Ministry experts to help enhance food habits.
The meal along with educational programs to gradually correct food habits play an important role in preventing child malnutrition, she said.
The three standard indicators of child malnutrition are stunting (short height for age), wasting (low weight for height) and under/overweight (low/high weight for age). They help determine the magnitude by which a child suffers from malnutrition.
In 2016, globally there were 155 million children under five years of age stunted, 52 million wasted and 41 million overweight.
WHO estimates that malnutrition accounts for 54% of child mortality worldwide, about 1 million children. Another estimate also by WHO states that childhood underweight is the cause for about 35% of all deaths of children under the age of five worldwide.
The main causes are unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene, factors related to society and poverty, diseases, maternal factors, gender issues and – overall – poverty.

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