Child Malnutrition

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Malnutrition is the cause of more than half of all child deaths worldwide. Malnourished children have lowered resistance to infection; they are more likely to die from common childhood ailments such as diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections. Although the share of children who are malnourished has gradually been declining over the past 25 years, the actual number of malnourished children is still rising in many underdeveloped and developing countries. For example, in 1995,167 million children under the age of five years, nearly one-third of all children in developing countries were either underweight or stunted. Malnutrition causes a great deal of physical and emotional suffering and it is a violation of a child's human rights. Malnutrition substantially raises the risk of infant and child deaths, and increases vulnerability to a variety of diseases in later life. In addition, malnutrition impairs cognitive ability and decreases school performance, and lowers labor productivity and lifetime earnings. Combating child malnutrition is of great importance to the future economic and social welfare of countries. In order to effectively deal with child malnutrition it is essential that the causes of child malnutrition be understood, as well, it is important to credit current progresses in child malnutrition and the possible initiatives necessary to continue with reducing child malnutrition in developing worlds.

Causes of Child Malnutrition

While the causes of child malnutrition are very complex and interrelated, it has been researched that the main determinants can be broken down into several levels. The immediate determinants of any child's nutritional status are the child's dietary intake and health. These immediate determinants are ultimately influenced by three other underlying determinants: food security, adequate care of mothers and children, and a proper health environment. Finally, these three underlying determinants are influenced by basic factors: the political resources available to a country or community, and a host of political, cultural, and social factors that affect their utilization. In considering these underlying determinants, three variables should be addressed. They include: women's education and women's status national food availability and health environment quality; and national income and democracy.

Women's Education and Status Relative to Men

In most, if not all, developing countries, women play a key role in maintaining household food security and in caring for children on a daily basis. These two factors are without a doubt the two most important factors influencing a child's nutritional status. Depending on the region, women are usually involved in all food production and acquisition. The household decisions made in these areas are influenced by women's knowledge regarding the nutritional benefits of different foods and their ability to direct household resources toward food for home consumption.

Also, since childbirth and breast feeding can only be carried out by women, they are naturally the primary caregivers at the beginning of a child's life. Finally, women are most often the people who feed and bathe children, seek health care when they are sick, protect them from exposure to danger, and support their cognitive and social development. When provided with these key roles, it is obvious that a women's knowledge and abilities, as well as her physical well-being and decision-making power are crucial to children's nutrition.

Based on the above information, economists believe that women's education and status relative to men's is strongly associated with child malnutrition in developing countries. The education level of women, who are the main care takers of children, has several potentially positive effects on the quality of care. More educated women are better able to process information, acquire skills, and model positive caring behaviors than less-...
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