Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My African Adventure in Food & Nutrition - Part 2: Malnutrition Expedition

Coming to South Sudan I have been faced with seeing malnutrition as a common problem in kids. Many young children (under 5) at the orphanage and in the community show the obvious sign of malnutrition – a swollen abdominal. This can signify a lack of protein (kwashiorkor) or carbohydrates (marasmus). Technically though, malnutrition is when the body is missing anything it needs. With these children, because the diets are deficient, they are missing micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, as well as lacking the macronutrients. This breaks my heart.

What especially saddens me though is that this state of malnutrition has become the norm and it is not looked at with so much concern. Even when I was talking with a well-qualified nurse, he said that this (the swollen abdominal) is normal. I urged him, “No, this is not normal. Children in North America do not have these swollen bellies.” He conceded that their diet is lacking but it isn’t serious enough because it doesn’t cause long-term damage. I can agree that the children here aren't severely malnourished or wasting away, but if a growing body is not getting enough protein or carbohydrates or BOTH along with missing numerous vitamins it will affect their development.

Fortunately, tI was able to teach a seminar at the orphanage (to the leaders) about the basics of nutrition and explain the problems of malnutrition. I explained what carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are as well as vitamins and minerals. We looked at the different food groups (Vegetables, Fruit, Grains, Protein – not Dairy, since they don’t really have that here), and identified which local foods fit into which categories. We worked together to complete a basic menu plan to see how you can use foods from each food group in a given day and use variety in your diet (eg. Instead of eating maize 3/day for your grains, you could have cassava at a meal and sorghum at another meal). I was able to do some teaching to provide knowledge about nutrition and hopefully they can continue to apply this knowledge in accordance with their economic capacity.

In thinking about the malnutrition here, some similarities to my own North American culture struck me. Just as the people here expect a degree of malnutrition and see it as “normal”, we do the same thing with our health. We don’t recognize if we are sick when that is our constant state of being and we have never experienced a higher level of health. We live each day with the effects of our high-sugar, high-fat, highly-processed diets thinking we are healthy for the most part. Perhaps we are all feeling sick from these things, but it has become the new normal. I encourage you to improve your diet and lifestyle and see if you can reach a higher level of wellness. Don’t let sickness become your norm.

2 comments:

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The African adventure in food nutrition is described here. Useful post