Hidden Hunger

So what is malnutrition? When most people think of malnutrition, they imagine starving children which is actually, “acute malnutrition”. Malnutrition isn't just about going hungry. You can be malnourished and eating plenty of food. But if that food is missing key nutrients and vitamins, you’re at risk for serious health complications. A lifelong diet of empty calories is known as “chronic malnutrition”.

Chronic malnutrition is a serious problem in Guatemala, especially for kids. It has the fourth highest child chronic malnutrition rate in the world and has the highest rate in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. Nearly half of all Guatemalan children under five are malnourished. As a result, they suffer from stunting which not only affects their physical growth and health, but their education and economic performance later in life. Imagine half of the US’s population affected by stunting. What would that mean for us as a society and American power around the world???

One of the trickiest problems to ending chronic malnutrition is that most people suffering from it don’t even realize. Through conversations with people working on the issue in Guatemala, we learned  that chronic malnutrition is INVISIBLE in the communities affected by it. Children gain weight and grow taller so parents don’t think they’re “malnourished”. The term in Spanish, desnutrición, is too technical to use in communities living with it. Efforts to combat malnutrition have had to experiment with how they describe the issue in order to effectively communicate the problem. In conjunction with widespread efforts to weigh and measure kids to detect stunting from malnutrition, asking the simple question, “Are your kids growing well?” may be one solution. It is quite a challenge to understand how those affected by malnutrition think about malnutrition.

During our time in Guatemala, we hope to understand the major obstacles in communicating the consequences of malnutrition that ultimately prevent it from becoming a thing of the past.

Food for thought: What do you think of when you hear the word “malnutrition”? Leave us a comment below!

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Photo courtesy of thousanddays.org

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