Are you aware how deficiency in key nutrients can affect children? Do you know what factors lead to dietary deficiencies in developing countries? One of the main health problems in developing countries is attributable to malnutrition. It is not only one of the major contributors to morbidity and mortality, but it is also one of the causes of developmental deficiencies around the world. The most vulnerable population predominantly affected by malnutrition are pregnant women and young children. In developing countries like Ecuador, malnutrition is not given the urgent attention it requires. One of the major problems Ecuadorian authorities are currently confronting is chronic malnutrition among children. Although the Ecuadorian government has developed some planning to decrease malnutrition rates, the effects often do not reach residents living in isolated communities. There have been measures taken to reduce poverty and develop programs with the purpose of educating people especially from rural regions where most of the population live in poverty and who are deprived of access to sanitation, drinkable water, and/or health services. The Ecuadorian diet in marginalized sectors and/or lower Socioeconomic Status (SES) lacks food diversity, with a very low fruit and vegetable intake. In rural areas, there is limited access to nutritious foods and a lack of proper nutrition awareness, which has led to chronic malnutrition or inadequate nutrition affecting 24% of children under five years of age, according to The World Bank (2011). Childhood malnutrition leads to underweight, stunting, and wasting. It is essential to assist the most vulnerable populations in meeting their basic food and nutrition needs all year, especially in a country that has a diversity of foods being grown all year round.
A major problem to human growth that impairs and threatens collective productivity in adulthood is due to childhood malnutrition. This is a cause that is often overlooked. In developing countries, malnutrition starts from an early age. This problem reduces economic growth and contributes to poverty and inequality amongst individuals throughout the country. Although the immediate causes of malnutrition are the inadequate nutrient intake and high exposure and susceptibility to diseases, the underlying factors include social and ethnic disparities, as well as lack of access to basic health services. So, what are some of the solutions to leading causes of malnutrition in a developing country like Ecuador? Improving breastfeeding practices, screening and treating infections and diseases on time, and implement nutrition education and hygiene practices are solutions that can help combat malnutrition.
The life cycle of the human being in its different stages of life has specific nutritional requirements according to each phase in age: birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, mature adulthood, late adulthood. During these different stages throughout life, the organism fulfills innumerable functions on which it takes an individual’s growth and immunological development to protect itself from a series of diseases. This action will diminish the strength a disease may impact on an individual or will lead to a healthy quality of life. For that reason, it is reasonable to know when to implement different types of diets according to the needs from the different stages of the life cycle.
A major health problem in developing countries is the introduction of harmful lifestyles attributable to poor nutrition that can be changed with new education policies. As a result of this absence, there is an increase in morbidity and mortality. Chronic diseases have spread and affect more people. By preventing or controlling chronic diseases, we can decrease the complications on recovery that this bring to people who are affected by it and which it will also increase health expenses and the quality of life or death.
Ecuador is one of the smallest countries located in South America bordering Colombia, Peru and the Pacific Ocean. It is a middle-income country with an emerging economy that is extremely reliant on supplies, such as petroleum and agricultural goods. It is a country that is diversified by tropical and temperate crops. They cultivate maze, beans, potatoes, coffee, bananas, sugar, cacao, palm oil, rice, vegetables, seafood, and livestock. So, how is it a country with abundant farming land, water resources, a wide range of crop production, and rich in vegetation can have a high incidence of childhood malnutrition? Despite having abundant agricultural land and water resources, Ecuador remains to be one of the countries in Latin America with high levels of childhood malnutrition.
In Ecuador, there is no urgent attention in implementing a policy addressing the different stages of the life cycle of the human being, but are instead made sometimes to vulnerable groups but not as a comprehensive policy to all groups. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable people that suffer from chronic malnutrition are indigenous children. This reveals the deficits of the Ecuadorian health care structure. The extreme disparity among indigenous children is a problem. The evidence shows six out of ten children living in indigenous communities are not adequately developed for their age and suffer from malnutrition (UNICEF, 2009).
Improving breastfeeding and feeding practices
In developing countries, it is common to see millions of children suffering from dietary deficiencies, resulting in frequent diseases. Maternal and child malnutrition has a high incidence rate in low-income and middle-income countries. This results in considerable rise in mortality and an overall disease problem. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), there is a shortage of mothers who breastfeed their babies in Ecuador. More than half of infants under six months old are not entirely breastfed (UNICEF, 2009). Breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and child. Breast milk is exclusively suitable to the baby’s dietary requirements and is a vital element with incomparable immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that shield against a host of viruses and illnesses for both mothers and children.
Unfortunately, children suffering from dietary deficiencies and diseases commonly come from a low socioeconomic background. The conditions on how these children live involve overcrowding homes with low income and poor sanitation and water supply. Most parents have a low education level, maybe having completed elementary school. Their lack of education influence their poor nutrition status and knowledge to provide a healthy diet to their children. Complementary feeding in infants six to eight months old is also important because after that period of time, it becomes challenging to breastfed infants to meet their nutrient needs from the mother’s milk alone. It plays a large role in childhood nutrition and development status. As infants grow, their energy needs increase which is why it is recommended to use complementary foods after this time and supplement with breast milk. However, in developing countries some complementary foods are not fortified. This could lead to deficiencies if the parent is not aware of the nutritional value in their child’s diet.
A solution to this problem of malnutrition would be to support and encourage women, mothers, mothers-to-be and their families to breastfeed their babies at least for the first six months. After the baby’s first six month, mothers should introduce acceptable complementary foods to the baby along with breast milk. These indications should be taught to rural and isolated communities. Health brigades could assist twice to three times a year to provide education to these communities. Fortified complementary foods and supplementation should also be of easy access and provided to mothers and children to help coping with childhood malnutrition and decrease mortality rates.
Screening and treating infections and diseases
Malnourished children suffer from an increased risk of catching on diseases frequently. Malnourished children are prone to suffer complications from a disease which and are more likely to die from diseases than those children who are healthy. In developing countries, availability to health services is rare and scarce. This is related to the availability these vulnerable populations have to face when they need medical attention. They have to travel for a long time just to seek medical care and sometimes don’t even have enough means to get to the nearest hospital. Immunizations and treatments for diseases should be readily available for the demands that this population needs in an early stage of life.
Poor sanitation also affects a child’s nutritional status and increases the risk of infectious diseases. There is a high prevalence of bacterial and parasitic diseases in developing countries which contributes to malnutrition (Brabin & Coulter, 2003). Practical health services need to be available, so problems like infectious diseases can be addressed on time. Malnutrition is the most important factor for the burden of disease in developing countries (Murray and Lopez, 1997).
Preventing and treating childhood infections and diseases on time through adequate health and hygiene practices at home will help to reduce the rates of malnutrition. It will also help determine the probability of a child to grow adequately according to their age. Deworming, supplementation, and hand-washing are not common practices for most rural populations. By practicing them on a daily basis, there is a lot that can be done and prevent fatal causes and hence live a healthier lifestyle. These solutions encourage effective attention to basic health and nutrition services and improve community outreach.
Food Security and Access to Nutritious Foods
Malnutrition is defined as a poor nutritional status or as under or over nutrition. Unfortunately, malnutrition is positively correlated with food insecurity. It prevails in middle-to -low-income countries the most (Black et al. 2008). One out of six children in developing countries is underweight. One in four of the world’s children is stunted. Stunted is defined as below minus two standard deviations from median height for age of reference population. Approximately 3 million children lives are lost every year (UNICEF, 2017). Undernutrition generally applies to energy deficiency, but it may also relate to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
At the extreme, poverty is a deprivation of basic human needs. Worldwide, poverty is being defined by the cost of food, and food gets expensive when there are no means to make money to buy it. Poverty is more pervasive in rural areas of Ecuador, affecting almost 70% of people in rural areas (Nations Encyclopedia, 2017). In most Ecuadorian households, there is a lack of a dietary diversity and this is essential for food security. Although Ecuador is a country with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown and exported worldwide, people rely on the same options every day. Living a healthy life doesn’t equate to cost but rather creativity: creativity to use what is available. Fruits, vegetables and even livestock are so inexpensive in Ecuador, yet people from rural areas cannot afford them.
Low average income, low education, and low employment are predominate in rural areas in Ecuador. Inadequate food assistance resources to help low-income people purchase food is one of the many factors why communities can experience food insecurity. Politics and governance play a fundamental role in reducing malnutrition. The selection of governance and its capacity to formulate and implement sound policies to help their citizens’ well-being is a determining factor to eradicate poverty and subsequent problems (Smith and Haddad. 2014).
Solutions to this primary cause of malnutrition in achieving diverse and nutritious foods among these populations to reduce chronic diseases. Also, setting a pattern of ethical behavior determining how to play an active responsibility in the progress of a country and protecting their people and living cultures. By incorporating social responsibility to help communities stand for themselves, providing them guidance and techniques to become self-sufficient so they can start their own business. A goal needs to be set to share a vision with citizens and to generate an optimistic impact to the world. Embracing responsibility to represent change to accomplish the sustainable development of these communities that desperately needs help.
A nutrition education class works well for mothers that are expecting or already have children, from how to prepare and cook to what types of foods can be provided to them and to their kids to become and to grow up healthy. They can also be taught how to prepare foods with what they have available in their area. This involves multiple sectors including education health, agriculture, food industry, to ensure that diverse, nutritious foods are available and accessible to all household members. The government can aid their citizens by examining food policies and the country regulatory system to see what can be used to provide to these vulnerable communities.
Malnutrition is a problem that affects developing countries. Ecuador is one of the most vulnerable countries in Latin America with high rates of childhood malnutrition. There is a poor access to health care services in rural areas. Improving infant feeding practices through effective education and counseling services and effective growth monitoring of children as key action to address malnutrition in Ecuador. Fortifying staple foods with high quality of vitamins and minerals and supplementation to the poorest and most vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and infants, will improve the quality of live in Ecuadorian children.
Assessing the role playing the consumption of native fruits in the nutritional status of Ecuadorian population and its protective effect against certain diet-related diseases could help to increase the value of the Ecuadorian diet and specifically to enhance the consumption of those indigenous foods showing a high nutritional value and/or health beneficial activity. In addition, this knowledge would be crucial to promote a sustainable development of rural regions in Ecuador based on the production, use and commercialization of these foods.