Today the Daily Mirror reported that the national plan to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient by 2020 may not happen. Apparently, our cattle and buffalo population had decreased by 7.2% in 2013, and in 2014 that fell by a massive 21%. There’s more about it here in the Agriculture and Economic census report 2013/2014 if you can read Sinhala. The English translation isn’t out as yet sadly.
If we are able to achieve self-sufficiency in producing milk it would be terrific! This would mean that milk can be purchased for much less than it is now. If we increase our intake of milk, we will certainly be healthier with all the extra calcium, vitamins and minerals in our system.
Nutrition is important because as it stands, we aren’t exactly the most nourished nation. Malnutrition among children and youth is becoming a growing concern.
It starts at birth
According to this report by UNICEF, malnutrition affects one-third of Sri Lanka’s children, and one-quarter of the women. So malnutrition starts early here.
It also reveals shocking stats such as almost 58% of infants between 6 and 11 months and 38% children between 12 – and 23 months being anaemic. Those are significant numbers. It means that quite a large part of our population will not develop properly – their bones, nerves, brain and other organs. They will not be able to reach their full potential in growth and development – not because of a fault of their, but because they just didn’t receive enough or the right nutrition when they were born.
The report goes on to say that 14% of children suffer from extreme malnutrition, and they weigh far less than they should. Children who are malnourished but not to an extreme stand at 29%.
Adolescents at risk
As we grow older, our hindered development and growth will continue to affect us. The government has some excellent policies in place to combat this but they seem to have hit a few snags in the implementation process. The National Strategic Plan: Adolescent Health for 2013 to 2017 report, states that the school curriculum includes nutrition information for adolescents, but they haven’t been able to execute them successfully.
The report also reveals that for children between the ages of 10 to 15 in 2002, overall prevalence of thinness was 47.2%, stunting at 28.5% and overweight at 2.2%. It’s clear that the effects of malnutrition is long term and will continue to affect us throughout our lives.
It’s interesting to see that obesity is at a low of 2.2%, but the report also says obesity can become a problem in Sri Lanka as adolescents resort to eating unhealthy quantities of junk food given their lifestyles.
How childhood malnutrition affects adults
Ultimately, as adults who did not receive adequate nutrition will not be able reach their full potential and may develop non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and even cancer.
Looking at how this will affect the development of the country, the Youth and Development document published last year by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development, is a good source of information. It states, ‘one of the main consequences of malnourished adults is reduced work capacity, and absenteeism owing to illness or exhaustion, which in turn has an impact on economic productivity’.
The report also talks about why an adequate level of nutrition is particularly important for women if we are to ensure we have a strong and health future generation. Malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished children.
What we can gather from all this information, is that while Sri Lanka has some impressive policies in place to ensure we are a healthy nation – from school food programmes, a plan to be self-sufficient in producing milk and free health care – there are lapses that are obstructing intended positive outcomes. Perhaps strengthening these policies and carrying out awareness programmes will help. Hopefully, the hard work that the government is doing will pay off soon.