Hunger and malnutrition is more of a problem than many of us believe or know – why?

It is a fact - hunger affects more people than does AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Some 800 million people go to bed hungry, yet at the same time, overweight and obesity is on the increase. Together this means that 2 billion people suffer from what is known as hidden hunger – they consume enough or even excess kilojoules (energy) but have a basic diet that fails to provide sufficient levels of crucial vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that allow them to be mentally and physically healthy. Hidden hunger is not malnutrition as classically presented as the hungry or starving individual, but malnutrition as it should properly be defined: poor overall quality of the diet and nutrition.

You are unlikely to read about ‘hidden hunger’ in newspapers or see it talked about on television, yet malnutrition, in all its forms, presents significant threats to human health and productivity including:

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies account for an estimated 7.3% of the global disease burden.
Iron, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies rank among the top 10 leading causes of death due to disease in developing countries.
Malnutrition compounded by repeated bouts of infectious disease, causes an estimated 3.5 million preventable maternal and child deaths annually.


Today the world faces a double burden of malnutrition with undernutrition and overnutrition being found in the same community, household or even individual. South Africa is already experiencing the double burden of disease and undergoing a transition from predominantly infectious disease (such as tuberculosis) to non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease and hypertension). Here are 5 frightening South Africa health facts:

There is an increasing prevalence of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
Obesity within the adult population, particularly women, is increasing with 24% being overweight and 39% obese.
There is an increasing prevalence of overweight in children aged 2 – 14 years, with the highest prevalence being in the 2- 5 year age group (18%).
Undernutrition in children younger than 10 years of age has decreased since 2005, with the exception of stunting (low height for age) which has increased and is highest in the 0 – 3 year age group (26%)
There are improvements in iron and vitamin A status in children under 5 years of age (due in part to a mandatory food fortification programme) however Vitamin A status still remains a major public health problem.
(Shisana, 2014 - SANHANES)


For good health enjoy a variety of foods – why?

Over one third (38%) of South Africans do not eat a wide enough variety of foods to prevent possibly developing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Eating a variety of foods offers a number of benefits including in an increase in vitamin and mineral consumption and contributing towards obesity prevention.

Vitamins and minerals are needed for the whole family every day as they are important for keeping you healthy – why?

Malnutrition as a result of not eating enough vital vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) is also known as ‘hidden hunger’. Those with hidden hunger may eat enough or even excess kilojoules (energy) but have a basic diet that fails to provide sufficient levels of crucial vitamins and minerals (micronutrient) that allow for optimal mental and physical healthy. It is a sign of poor overall quality of the diet. Young children and women of reproductive age living in low-income countries are the most vulnerable but it also occurs in high- income communities and those that are overweight or obese.

In many countries, poor people consume the same starchy foods (such as maize and rice) every day but do not add enough other foods (variety) to their meals. Such a diet may provide sufficient kilojoules (energy) but it usually does not provide sufficient vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) needed for good health. A balanced diet, containing adequate amounts of all the essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), includes a variety of fruit, vegetables, cereals, dairy, eggs and other foods from animal sources. It is highly likely that people who do not consume a variety of foods each day for whatever reason, (cost, availability, traditions, lack of knowledge) will sooner or later develop hidden hunger. They might not look like they are hungry but their body is!

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are not uncommon in South Africa, the most common being iron, vitamin A, iodine, folate and zinc deficiencies.

Hands should be washed with clean water and soap before preparing food or eating, and after going to the toilet – why?

It is a fact: Hand washing with clean water and soap is one of the most effective and cheapest measures against gastrointestinal infection. Hand washing with ordinary non-antibacterial soap is much more effective in removing bacteria from ones hands than hand washing with water alone. In many low-income homes, household soap is considered to be expensive. In fact, spaza shops often stock soap cut into small blocks, since some households cannot afford to buy an entire bar. Yet, soap plays an important role in hand washing because it assists in effectively removing dirt, soil and germs found on the skin.

It is especially important to wash ones hands with soap and water before preparing food or eating, and after using the toilet. There are also other times when it is recommended to wash ones hands:

After changing nappies and before expressing breast-milk;
Before and after handling raw meat, poultry and fish when preparing food as this prevents what is referred to as cross-contamination (germs moving from one food to another);
Before serving food;
After coughing, blowing the nose and sneezing;
After handling unclean objects, such as garbage containers;
After any contact with toxic chemicals.

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