Maggie: Everyday, millions of kids around the world don’t get enough to eat, and that hunger can have lifelong consequences. Shelby Holliday traveled to the nation of Kenya in Africa to understand the impact of going hungry.
Shelby: Located in one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in Kenya, the Silver Plate Primary School is a refuge for young students.
But here in these bright and energetic classrooms is a problem. Many of the students are hungry.
Student: Mdazi and strong tea.
Shelby: All you had today was tea?
Shelby: This boy almost fainted right before our eyes.
School director Michael Odhiambo says kids show up with empty stomachs all the time, and hunger takes a major toll on education.
If they don’t eat, can they learn?
Michael Odhiambo: They don’t learn. They don’t learn at all, at all. Actually, that is the biggest challenge we have in the school. You’ll find most of them – close to three-quarters of the class – they are sleepy.
Shelby: But being hungry doesn’t just make kids tired; it can cause permanent physical and mental damage.
For many, the problem starts long before they are even old enough to go to school.
Caroline Omufira: What we have realized, most children are stunted. That means they are short for their age.
Shelby: Stunting is what happens to a child’s body and brain when he or she doesn’t get enough nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life.
In clinics like this, it can be difficult to see, but without the right vitamins and minerals, a baby’s muscles and bones don’t grow the way they are supposed to, brain cells are limited, the immune system weakened.
Omufira: The rate of getting infections is higher and also the rate of dying is also very high. Most children will not grow up to their potential. They’ll not be able to actually be able to do quite a number of things.
Shelby: After about two years of age, the damage caused by stunting can’t be reversed. And studies show that stunted children are impacted for life. As students, they are 20% less likely to read and they score 7% lower in math. As adults, they will earn 20% less than their healthy peers.
It is an international crisis impacting poor communities around the world and costing the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars. Stunting kills an estimated 2 million children every single year and causes all kinds of problems for the millions more who survive. The problem is especially bad here in Sub-Saharan Africa where an estimated 40% of children are stunted.
But there is hope. If the problem is addressed early enough, lives can be saved.
Omufira: After 23 months, it cannot be corrected. But below 23 months, we can correct it. We can help the mother to correct it.
Shelby: The most important prescription doctors can give is education. And that is why nutritionists here are working to teach mothers about feeding their children. Some are even going house-to-house looking for babies at risk.
So, right now, we are going to go do a kind of a check-up on a little baby who is malnourished and was losing weight. So, they are trying to get him back on track, and he lives up here.
After climbing six flights of stairs, we met little 11-month-old Max. Max was born underweight because his mom wasn’t eating the right foods when she was pregnant. But thanks to the home visits, she has more information about nutrition.
Nutritionist: Then I divide by two.
Shelby: Almost a year old, Max’s arm is supposed to be about 13 centimeters in diameter. Today, it only measured 11.4, but his mom is optimistic.
Has he gotten better? Are you seeing progress?
If Max stays on the right track, he could grow up to reach his full potential.
But in order to address the silent crisis putting millions of lives at risk, experts say more work needs to be done globally.
Omufira: It needs to be address, yes. It needs to be addressed, and not only at the community level. We should start from up because if the top people know that stunting is a problem, then they can trickle down and support the programs on the ground.
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.
Maggie: If you want to find out how to support groups making an impact against stunting and childhood hunger, head to ChannelOne.com.