Report: Malnutrition Worsened under COVID-19

Fewer children are feeding on essential foods recommended for their healthy growth, a new study has revealed. The study titled; Livelihoods under COVID-19: Food supply and consumption, conducted by the Food Rights Alliance and Twaweza – East Africa shows that six out of ten households (60 percent) with young children aged 6-12 months, the children eat the same food as the rest of the household.

In two out of ten households (20 percent), such children have a different meal, and a similar number (20 percent) are breastfed. This means most babies are missing out on essential food nutrients necessary for their growth.

The factsheet is the third in a three-part series of impact assessments based on data from Sauti za Wananchi, Africa’s first nationally representative high-frequency mobile phone survey. The findings are based on data collected from 1,600 respondents across Uganda in May and June 2020.

“In rural households (65 percent), poorer households (67 percent) and those with lower levels of education (69 percent), young children are more likely to share the same food as everyone else,” the study report warns.

“The average number of meals taken per day by children aged between 6 months and five years is 2.7. This rises to an average of 2.8 meals per day in wealthier households and falls to 2.5 meals per day in poorer households,” it adds.

Less food consumption is not only affecting children, however. The study findings show that six out of ten households (60 percent) said their daily food intake had gotten worse over the previous month, compared to two out of ten (20 percent) who said their food intake had improved. Rural households (63 percent), poorer households (72 percent) and those with lower levels of education (64 percent) are more likely to report a worsening situation as regards daily food consumption.

These findings paint a grim picture of the country’s future prospects as government struggles to fight malnutrition among children below five years.

In 2015, the Ministry of Health warned that at least 33percent of Ugandan children are malnourished implying their immunity is not strong enough which exposes them to several diseases.

The Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011 showed that in Uganda, one in 19 children die before their first birthday and one in eleven die before their fifth birthday, and malnutrition contributes to 60percent of these deaths, making malnutrition one of the most significant contributors to child mortality in the country.

Marie Nanyanzi of Sauti za Wananchi at Twaweza told this website that the study provides a clear picture of what policymakers need to focus on during the lockdown and post lockdown period to salvage the situation.

“Again these data are bringing us timely and powerful insight on how Covid-19 is playing out across our country. The clear message here is that citizens are hungry. Across a range of measures of experiences and perceptions of food security: large numbers of Ugandans say they are struggling,” she said.

“Even more worryingly, high proportions of children are missing meals or eating less which can have long term consequences. It is clear that intervention is needed to support the people of Uganda to claim their right to food,” she added.

The study also revealed that increasing food prices mean people are having less food than necessary.

“Three out of four citizens (75 percent) report that one or more food products rose in price over the preceding seven days. This is slightly higher in rural areas (80 percent) than urban (71 percent). Rural citizens (35 percent) are also more likely to report that some products have been unavailable than urban citizens (15 percent),” the report reads in part.

The products for which price rises are most commonly reported are grain and cereals (40percent), pulses, nuts and seeds (28percent), sugar and related products (26percent) and spices and baking agents (23 percent).

The price increments mostly came about as the lockdown affected supply chains, in relation to high demand for foodstuffs as families stocked food products to see them through the period.

The study reveals that seven out of ten citizens reported having worried about running out of food. A majority of citizens (58 percent) reported they had eaten less than they thought they should while four out of ten citizens (40 percent) reported that their household ran out of food once or more.

A similar number (40 percent) reported having been hungry but not eating, while one out of four (25 percent) reported going for a whole day without food during the extended lockdown period.

Rising poverty levels are affecting food availability, with more people now unaware of the source of their next meal.

“Half of the households (50 percent) report that the stocks of food that they currently have available at their home would last no more than a week, including two out of ten households (20 percent) that have no food stored at home. A further two out of ten (20 percent) say their food stocks would last no more than a month,” the report reads.

Urban households (51 percent), poorer households (52-55 percent) and less-well-educated households (49 percent) are more likely than other households to have supplies of food that would last for no more than a week.

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